“Our study is an important step on the road to a full remedy for the deadliest skin cancer,” said Dr Carmit Levy from the Tel Aviv University’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at the University’s Sackler School of Medicine, as he announced they have discovered how to stop melanoma from spreading.
“We hope that our findings will help turn melanoma into a nonthreatening, easily curable disease,” he said.
Researchers understand how the aggressive form of skin cancer metastasizes and have identified two drugs that may stop it from doing so.
Melanoma starts in the melanocytes – the skin cells that produce pigment – and so usually appears as a dark mole, although they can be white or skin-coloured. However, it is once the melanoma spreads from the skin to the blood vessels that it can prove fatal.
The researchers began by examining pathology samples taken from melanoma patients, and their findings were very striking. “We looked at samples of early melanoma, before the invasive stage,” said Levy. “To our surprise, we found changes in the morphology of the dermis – the inner layer of the skin – that had never before been reported. Our next task was to find out what these changes were and how they related to melanoma.”
“The threat of melanoma is not in the initial tumour that appears on the skin, but rather in its metastasis – cancer cells sent off to colonise vital organs like the brain, lungs, liver and bones,” said Levy.
If caught early, the mole can simply be removed, but once it has begun to spread the procedure is more complicated and usually involves chemotherapy or radiation.
The research team say that have identified two chemicals that can inhibit the spreading process, one stops the cancer spreading from the tumor to the skin, and the other blocks the skin from undergoing changes to receive the cancer cells.
Both substances were tested successfully in the lab, and they may serve as promising candidates for future drugs, they said. In addition, the changes in the dermis, as well as the vesicles themselves, can be used as powerful indicators for early diagnosis of melanoma.
The research was published in the Nature Cell Biology scientific journal