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Scientists identified better approach to treat deadly melanoma

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Better approach to treat deadly melanoma

According to the latest discoveries in melanoma research, patients now receive a better approach, thanks to scientists from Cancer Research UK.

Melanoma is a skin cancer with a low survival rate from time of diagnosis, unlike the other forms of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma of the skin) which have a better prognosis. In the UK, it is the fifth most common cancer. As the name suggests, melanoma derives from melanocytes, the skin cells responsible for producing melanin. Melanoma usually appears on the skin, but it can occur anywhere  melanocytes are found: therefore, there is uveal melanoma, which is also melanoma of the eye, or bowel  melanoma. Risk factors include genetic mutations, radiation exposure and the presence of numerous melanocytic nevi on the skin. Also, a case of melanoma in the family greatly increases the risk of this cancer.

Melanoma

Melanoma

It is very important for the patient to recognize the signs of melanoma,  because if it is discovered earlier, the chances of cure are higher. American Cancer Society proposed a mnemonic formula that marks the 5 signs of malignant degeneration of a nevus (ABCDE): asymmetry, irregular borders, a change in the color, diameter greater than 6 mm and evolution over time. Basic treatment consists of surgical excision but there are situations where the disease is advanced, that is melanoma has spread in the body, and then systemic treatment (chemotherapy, immunomodulators), such as MEK inhibitors, is needed.

Now researchers have found that MITF, a protein involved in melanin production, is involved in providing tumor cells resistant to MEK inhibitors. Dr Claudia Wellbrock and her team made some experiments to see which cells are resistant to treatment. What they found was that resistant cells are those containing higher levels of the protein SMURF2. Based on this finding, the researchers reduced the level of the protein (SMURF2) and then treated the cells with MEK inhibitors. It seems that by reducing SMURF2 greatly increases sensitivity to MEK inhibitors. In addition, these findings were demonstrated in laboratory animals as researchers obtained a significant reduction in tumor size in rats.

Dr. Wellbrock said that now most research in oncology focuses on the discovery of new combinations of drugs to counteract resistance of tumor. Another problem in oncology  treatment is the dose therapy because drugs usually used affect not only tumor cells but also other cells of the body. Regarding melanoma treatment, Dr. Wellbrock said that by identifying more potent, but less toxic drug combinations  thousands of lives could be saved.