Skin cancer stop signal discovery could be applied to sunscreen

By Andrew McDougall

- Last updated on GMT

Skin cancer stop signal discovery could be applied to sunscreen
Scientists in Australia have made a breakthrough in understanding what stops a common form of skin cancer from developing, which could make new cancer prevention available to the public in five years, in the form of sunscreen.

Research published in the cancer journal, Cancer Cell​, shows that Professor Stephen Jane and Dr Charbel Darido of Monash University's Department of Medicine, have discovered a gene that helps protect the body from squamous cell cancer (SCC) of the skin.

In collaboration with Associate Professor Rick Pearson from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Monash researchers showed that loss of a particular gene knocks out the signal to stop skin cells from growing.

Prevention and treatment possibilities

Without this stop signal in place, the scientists say the cells keep increasing in number and eventually form a cancer.

Identifying this driver of cancer thus provides a clear direction for developing strategies for both prevention and treatment in the near future, according to the research.

“There are strategies by which we could increase the expression of this gene that will likely afford some protection from skin cancer, for example in the form of a supplement in sun-cream,”​ said Jane.

“The molecules that would increase this expression are very well validated, so there would be few barriers to applying them in clinical trials."

Missing gene identified as driver

Jane stated that the team discovered a gene with an important role in skin development in the fetus is missing in adult SCC tumour cells.

"Virtually every SCC tumour we looked at had almost undetectable levels of this particular gene, so its absence is a very profound driver of these cancers,"​ he said.

The research indicates that drugs already in clinical trials for other cancers may actually be effective in treating SCC, they would just need to be applied to skin or head and neck cancers.

"This means that a number of the usual hurdles in getting therapies to trial have already been cleared, so patients could be reaping the benefits of this research in under five years,"​ Professor Jane said.

Collaborating institutions on the paper include the Polish Academy of Sciences, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Harvard Medical School, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and the Alfred Hospital.

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