Read more: Irish women at higher risk from breast cancer

A scientist in Belfast has created a way to cause breast cancer cells to destruct, leaving non-cancerous cells healthy.

The delivery system is a gene that produces poisonous nitric oxide long known to have a powerful anti-cancer action.

Dr. Helen McCarthy of the school of pharmacy at Queen’s University Belfast, said nitric oxide had “ shown huge anti-tumor effects but we hadn’t been able to get a targeting system,” she told "The Irish Times".

She has now managed to find a way to get the nitric oxide gene into the cancerous breast cells by means of a “designer biomimetic vector” that kills breast cancer cells but leaves normal tissues alone.

McCarthy’s work has just been published in the “International Journal of Pharmaceutics.”

Her method is gene therapy which manages to get the DNA into the cancerous cell. “In order to make gene therapy work you need to get the DNA into the cell,” McCarthy said.

The carrier does this by producing nitric oxide after it enters the cell The technique works very well in cell cultures in the lab she said and could be very successful against secondary cancers.

McCarthy says she wants to develop it as a dry powder that can be directly injected into the patient. “The idea is this will be delivered systemically around the body and be delivered to the other tumors,” she said.

Read more: Irish women at higher risk from breast cancer