As just reported in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers have identified a gene that suppresses tumor growth in melanoma. Melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer, resulted in 8420 deaths and was diagnosed in 62,480 new cases in 2008 according to the National Cancer Institute.
This finding by researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) could result in new individualized treatments for melanoma patients in the future. “This research is an illustrative proof of concept that shows the value of genomic strategies for understanding cancer and possible therapies,” said NHGRI Scientific Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D.
The study used tumor and blood samples from 79 melanoma patients with cooperations from Steven Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., at the National Cancer Institute. One-quarter of human melanoma tumors analyzed in the study had mutations in genes that code for matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes.
According to the NIH, “The new study may help to explain the disappointing performance of drugs designed to treat cancer by blocking MMP enzymes. Because members of the MMP gene family were thought to be oncogenes and many tumors express high levels of MMP enzymes, researchers have spent decades pursuing MMPs as promising targets for cancer therapies. However, when MMP inhibitors were tested in people with a wide range of cancers, the drugs failed to slow — and in some cases even sped up — tumor growth. Now, it turns out that one of the most often mutated MMP genes in melanoma is not an oncogene at all.”
Researchers found that MMP-8 actually serves as a tumor suppressor gene in melanoma. An estimated 6 percent of melanoma patients have tumors with a mutated MMP-8 gene. These numbers mean that blocking MMPs is not the best course of action in all cases.
Melanoma is a cancer which originates in cells that make the pigment melanin. It most commonly begins in a mole (skin melanoma). There are other pigmented tissues in the eye or in the intestines. Melanoma is becoming more common and is thought to caused when ultraviolet radiation in sunlight damages DNA in skin cells. Overexposure to the sun caused genetic changes in skin cells which can cause cancer.
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