A cure for skin cancer could soon be on the horizon after researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) developed a new chemical compound that can significantly reduce the spread of melanoma cells in the body.
Melanoma continues to be one of the deadliest forms of cancer in the United States. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that about 71,943 Americans were diagnosed with the malignancy in 2013. Of these, about 9,394 patients later died from the disease.
This type of skin cancer often develops when skin cells are damaged because of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning beds. The cells then mutate into rapidly multiplying cancer cells and form malignant tumors on the skin.
If melanomas are diagnosed and treated early on, there is a chance that they can still be cured. However, those left untreated can advance and easily spread to other parts of the body, making them more life-threatening and difficult to root out.
To help stop the development of melanoma, MSU pharmacology professor Richard Neubig and his colleagues developed a small-molecule chemical compound that can prevent cancer cells from multiplying.
According to the researchers, the new treatment focuses on stopping the ability of genes to produce proteins and RNA molecules used by melanoma tumors to further develop and spread cells to other parts of the body.
Neubig explained that it was difficult for them to create a small-molecule drug that could halt the gene activity responsible for allowing melanomas to develop. The chemical compound they came up with was the same one they intended to use to treat another illness called scleroderma.
People who suffer from scleroderma experience a hardening of tissues, such as those in the heart, lungs, kidneys, and skin. Scientists discovered that the mechanism behind fibrosis, or thickening of the skin, for scleroderma patients is similar to the one that helps spread cancer.
Neubig and his team used the chemical compound to treat laboratory mice injected with human melanoma cells. They discovered that the drug was able to reduce the migration of malignant cells by as much as 85 to 90 percent.
With small-molecule drugs making up 90 percent of medications currently available on the market, study co-author Kate Appleton said their work could lead to the development of a highly effective treatment for skin cancer.
Appleton pointed out that melanoma is very fatal because it can quickly spread its malignant cells all over the body. They then attack other primary organs such as the lungs and brain.
The MSU researchers believe it is important to identify the correct pathway that malignant cells use to spread throughout the body, so that they could develop their chemical compound further. This would then allow them to determine which melanoma patients would benefit the most from their treatment.
Appleton said the ability of their chemical compound to stop the development and spread of melanoma cells is stronger when they are able to activate the correct pathway.
The findings of the study are featured in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.