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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Imagine if we had a way to stop cancer before it even started. A new discovery found at the University of Minnesota could someday make this a reality.

"We are very proud. It's a nice study. The data are super clear," said Dr. Eric Hendrickson, the lead researcher of the study.

For three years Hendrickson's team at the University of Minnesota Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics has worked in partnership with Cardiff University in England researching cancer and how one tiny gene could completely shut it off.

"If you do not have this gene -- you don't get the cancer cell," said Hendrickson. "We kind of just push the frontier forward a couple inches at a time. We just pushed it forward a couple feet at one time."

Here's what they found:

As our cells age, they deteriorate.

The edges of our chromosomes fray like bad shoelaces.

Typically, by this point our bodies tell those cells to die, but sometimes the message gets mixed up and the cells turn into cancer.

Hendrickson found that the gene all of us have, called DNA Ligase 3, is what allows the cancer to develop.

In his tests, every time they removed this gene, cancer could not form.

"Once the cell decides 'I want to become a cancer cell', it needs to have this gene functional or it can't do that," he said.

In other words, no gene, no cancer.

Hendrickson's research was published Thursday in the world-renowned medical journal Cell Reports.

The conclusion found a way to stop cancer from forming; however, it does not kill cancer cells that already exist.

But it appears to be a giant leap in the right direction.

"It certainly gives everybody in the cancer field a new target that people didn't know about until today," he said.

There are no known drugs that can block the DNA Ligase 3 gene right now.

Hendrickson said drug companies are trying to find an inhibitor that can block this gene.

If they do find one, many trials will certainly follow before it can get to us, the customers.

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