Potential New Diagnostic Tools and Therapies for Melanoma in the Foreseeable Future

May 12, 2014

Oregon State University researchers have identified a biochemical process that may cause normal and healthy skin cells to transform into cancerous melanoma cells. These findings could help predict melanoma exposure and could also lead to future treatments.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, affects 70,000 in the U.S. alone every year.

Arup Indra, an associate professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy said, “We believe this is a breakthrough in understanding exactly what leads to cancer formation in melanoma. We've found that some of the mechanisms, which ordinarily prevent cancer are being switched around and actually help promote it.”

Researchers believe a protein called retinoid-X-receptor, or RXR is key to this process. RXR helps maintain proper operation of the immune response in the skin. Anotherhelper in this process are melanocytes, which gives skin melanin in response to sun exposure.

"When there isn't enough RXR, the melanocytes that exist to help shield against cancer ultimately become part of the problem," Indra said. "It's routine to have genetic damage from sunlight, because normally those cells can be repaired or killed if necessary. It's the breakdown of these control processes that result in cancer, and that happens when RXR levels get too low," Indra said.

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