According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, every hour of every day one American dies from melanoma–that’s approximately 10,000 people per year.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. When it is caught early, patients diagnosed with melanoma have only a 2 percent chance of death. However, when it is caught at a late stage, the chance of death dramatically increases to 84 percent.
Scientists at Michigan State University recently discovered a chemical compound and potential new drug that reduces the spread of melanoma cells by up to 90 percent.
“Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer with around 76,000 new cases a year in the United States,” post-doctoral research scientist and study co-author Kate Appleton said in a press release about the research. “One reason the disease is so fatal is that it can spread throughout the body very quickly and attack distant organs such as the brain and lungs.”
The chemical compound affects a gene’s ability to make RNA molecules and certain proteins in melanoma tumors. The transcription process allows the disease to spread, but this chemical compound can shut the entire process down.
“It’s been a challenge developing small-molecule drugs that can block this gene activity that works as a signaling mechanism known to be important in melanoma progression,” Richard Neubig, a pharmacology professor and co-author of the study, said in the press release. “Our chemical compound is actually the same one that we’ve been working on to potentially treat the disease scleroderma, which now we’ve found works effectively on this type of cancer.”
Scleroderma is a rare, and often fatal, autoimmune disease. It causes the hardening of skin tissue and organs including the heart, lung, and kidneys. The same mechanism that causes skin hardening in scleroderma also contributes to the spread of cancer.
The newly-discovered chemical compound is able to stop proteins from starting the gene transcription process in melanoma cells. The researchers found that the compound decreased the spread of melanoma cells by 85 to 90 percent. They also found that the potential new drug also significantly reduced tumors in the lungs of mice injected with human melanoma cells.
“The majority of people die from melanoma because of the disease spreading,” Neubig said. “Our compounds can block cancer migration and potentially increase patient survival.”
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