Scientists have said an “encouraging” discovery has been made in the fight against the most dangerous form of skin cancer. A team from the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow said it has proved that a specific gene, P-Rex1, must be present before malignant melanoma can spread in a patient.
Using a grant from the Association for International Cancer Research (AICR), Professor Owen Sansom and his team at the Beatson Institute conducted a study using mice models which mirror the common human genetics of melanoma and found that if P-Rex1 was absent from the cells, the melanoma tumours were unable to spread.
Further investigation enabled them to decipher the exact mechanism that P-Rex1 uses to spread and which is blocked when the gene is removed. They then confirmed that human melanoma samples, taken from patients’ tumours, contained raised levels of P-Rex1.
Professor Sansom said: “As malignant melanoma is resistant to many forms of chemotherapy, these findings are encouraging.
“Earlier studies using cancer cell lines implicated P-Rex1 in prostate, breast and ovarian cancer but this is the first time it has been shown to be involved in the metastasis of melanoma in mice models as well as being present at high levels in human tumours and cell lines where it drives invasion into surrounding tissue.”
Cases of malignant melanoma are higher amongst younger people, and researchers have said more than two young adults, aged between 15 and 34, are diagnosed with the disease every day in the UK.
Survival rates are amongst the highest for any cancer but it still causes around 46,000 deaths worldwide each year, around 2,560 of those in the UK. Scientists said the high death rate is due to cancer cells breaking away from the original tumour and spreading or “metastasising” to other organs like the brain.
Dr Lara Bennett, scientific communications manager for AICR, said the research can help form the foundations for future treatments.
She said: “Although it is early days and more research is needed, if drugs could be designed to block the effects of P-Rex1, melanoma could be prevented from metastasising. This would ensure it remained on the surface of the skin where it could easily be removed through surgery, leading to higher survival rates.”