A new skin-cancer model could help researchers reduce the risks of skin cancers, as well as finding new therapies for other types of cancers.
A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Dermatology and Vascular Surgery (DTVS) says their work suggests a novel model could potentially reduce the overall risk of melanoma, or skin cancer, by 30 per cent.
The model involves using a genetic mutation that reduces the number of melanocytes in the skin, which is the body’s defense against cancerous cells.
The researchers say they have now tested their new model with a clinical trial of patients who were diagnosed with melanoma before the mutation was introduced.
The team, led by Dr. Rakesh Raghavan, used the model to analyse skin cancers from a large cohort of patients from the National Health Service, a British national health service.
“Our study found that patients with a mutation that was present in only about 20 per cent of patients with melanomas, but not in any of the patients with the melanoma-free control group, were much less likely to develop melanoma compared to patients who had a mutation present in 40 per cent or more of the melanomas,” said Dr Raghavans research fellow Dr Paul Anderton.
“This finding is particularly relevant as we know that many patients with this mutation develop skin cancers that do not respond to standard treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and that we are unlikely to find a new treatment that is effective against all skin cancers.”
“We hope that this work will provide a tool to test new treatments for skin cancers in a more realistic and targeted way.”
The study, published in Nature Medicine, included 1,907 melanoma patients, 1,039 control patients, and 537 patients who developed skin cancers and were not diagnosed with any melanoma.
A total of 1,531 melanoma cases were diagnosed and identified by the DTVS, with an average age of 69.4 years.
The researchers say the average number of skin-related melanoma lesions per patient in the control group was 0.4 per year, while the mutation-positive patients in the mutation group had a mean lesion rate of 1.3 per year.
Dr Raghavaan said he hopes his research will help further understanding the mechanisms of melanomas and other skin cancers.
“We think that this study offers a novel approach to study the potential mechanisms of cancer and help us to understand what we need to do to prevent melanoma in the future,” he said.
“By identifying mutations in melanoma that are responsible for the reduced melanocyte counts in the human skin, we can now develop new treatments and develop better screening tools for melanoma.”
Dr Rakeshan added that the study showed that this type of mutation could be used to screen for skin cancer and to test drugs for melanomas.
“The study has revealed that the mutation could also be used as a surrogate for a melanoma diagnosis, to determine whether the mutation is predictive of the development of other skin cancer types,” he explained.
“Although the mutation has not been identified in patients with other skin diseases, our results suggest that it might also be predictive of melanoblastomas.”
Dr Anderson said that the results from the DTES study were very encouraging.
“It has been reported that skin cancers have a much lower risk of developing in people with a melanomas mutation than people without it,” he noted.
“If we can find ways to test the mutation in melanomas that are not present in patients, we will be able to develop new therapies to prevent the development and spread of melanocarcinoma.”
The DTVS is currently conducting a Phase II trial to test whether the new model would prevent skin cancer in a larger group of patients.
The study will be published in the journal Nature Medicine.