The University of Newcastle announced on Tuesday that Xu Dong Zhang had made the discovery which has excited other researchers around the world, Xinhua news agency reported.

Zhang found that a protein known as RIP1, previously linked to natural cell death in the body, has a pro-survival function in melanoma cells.

"We started investigating RIP1 from a perspective of necrotic cell death before finding that it actually plays an important role in regulating melanoma cell survival... We had to turn our entire thinking around," Zhang said.

"It appears to be unregulated from the earliest stages of melanoma, so if we can inhibit the molecule's survival mechanism we believe we'll be able to kill melanoma cells, either alone or in combination with existing drugs."

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