Register for updates

 
 

Medicine & Health
RSS Feed
TAU Researcher Discovers Trigger of Deadly Melanoma
Monday, August 03, 2015 9:30:00 AM

Study pinpoints cause of melanoma transformation within the epidermis

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, and melanoma, which accounts for 2% of skin cancer cases, is responsible for nearly all skin cancer deaths. Melanoma rates in the US have been rising rapidly over the last 30 years, and although scientists have managed to identify key risk factors, melanoma's modus operandi has eluded the world of medical research.

A new Tel Aviv University study published in Molecular Cell sheds light on the precise trigger that causes melanoma cancer cells to transform from non-invasive cells to invasive killer agents, pinpointing the precise place in the process where “traveling” cancer turns lethal. The research was led by Dr. Carmit Levy of the Department of Human Genetics and Biochemistry at TAU's Sackler School of Medicine and conducted by a team of researchers from TAU, the Technion Institute of Technology, the Sheba Medical Center, the Institut Gustave Roussy and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

If melanoma is caught in time, it can be removed and the patient's life saved. But once melanoma invades the bloodstream, turning metastatic, an aggressive treatment must be applied. When and how the transformation into aggressive invasion took place was until now a mystery.

Understanding the skin

"To understand melanoma, I had to obtain a deep understanding about the structure and function of normal skin," said Dr. Levy, "Melanoma is a cancer that originates in the epidermis, and in its aggressive form it will invade the dermis, a lower layer, where it eventually invades the bloodstream or lymph vessels, causing metastasis in other organs of the body. But before invading the dermis, melanoma cells surprisingly extend upward, then switch directions to invade.

"It occurred to me that there had to be a trigger in the microenvironment of the skin that made the melanoma cells 'invasive,'" Dr. Levy continued. "Using the evolutionary logic of the tumor, why spend the energy going up when you can just use your energy to go down and become malignant?"

After collecting samples of normal skin cells and melanoma cells from patients at hospitals around Israel, the researchers mixed normal and cancerous cells and performed gene analysis expression to study the traveling cancer's behavior. They found that, completely independently of any mutation acquisition, the microenvironment alone drove melanoma metastasis.

"Normal skin cells are not supposed to 'travel,'" said Dr. Levy. "We found that when melanoma is situated at the top layer, a trigger sends it down to the dermis and then further down to invade blood vessels. If we could stop it at the top layer, block it from invading the bloodstream, we could stop the progression of the cancer."

A new way of saving lives

The researchers found that the direct contact of melanoma cells with the remote epidermal layer triggered an invasion via the activation of "Notch signaling," which turns on a set of genes that promotes changes in melanoma cells, rendering them invasive. According to the study, when a molecule expressed on a cell membrane — a spike on the surface of a cell, called a ligand — comes into contact with a melanoma cell, it triggers the transformation of melanoma into an invasive, lethal agent.

"When I saw the results, I jumped out of the room and shouted, 'We got it!'" Dr. Levy said. "Now that we know the triggers of melanoma transformation and the kind of signalling that leads to that transformation, we know what to block. The trick was to solve the mystery, and we did. There are many drugs in existence that can block the Notch signalling responsible for that transformation. Maybe, in the future, people will be able to rub some substance on their skin as a prevention measure."

Dr. Levy is continuing to explore the research with the end goal of providing medical professionals with another tool of analysis of different stages of melanoma. "Melanoma is a cancer with a very long gestation period," said Dr. Levy. "If you can provide a simple kit with precise answers, you can catch it at the beginning stage and hopefully save lives."




Latest News

LocalTAU Tackles Florida Stormwater Runoff in Inaugural Pitch Competition

Top scientific teams from Israel's leading university pitch novel solutions to local crisis.

TAU Scientists Print First 3D Heart Using Patient’s Own Cells and Materials

Engineered heart completely matches the immunological, cellular, biochemical and anatomical properties of the patient.

Woolly Mammoths and Neanderthals May Have Shared Genetic Traits

Findings point to molecular resemblance in climate adaptation traits of the two species, TAU researchers say.

Brain Alterations Make It Difficult for Parkinson’s Disease Patients to Turn While Walking

Turning is also associated with freezing of gait and falls in Parkinson's patients, TAU researchers say.

Low-Bandwidth Radar Technology Provides Improved Detection of Objects

New TAU research breaks with long-held principles used in developing radar technologies.

Genetically Encoded Sensor Isolates Hidden Leukemic Stem Cells

Cells express surface markers that help them escape most targeted therapies, TAU researchers say.

Be Nice to Your Doctor — You May Receive Better Care

Under most conditions, positive social interactions have beneficial implications for employee performance, say TAU researchers.

PCV Vaccine Leads to Steep Decline in Childhood Hospitalizations Due to Community-Acquired Bacteremia

Vaccine also decreased antibiotic resistance patterns, TAU researchers say.

Physicists Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery About Quarks

Number of proton-neutron pairs in an atom determines how fast particles move, say TAU, MIT, Thomas Jefferson researchers.

New Blood Test May Map Fetal Genome for Countless Mutations

Test could detect innumerable diseases caused by minuscule impairments in the fetal genome, TAU researchers say.

contentSecondary
c

© 2019 American Friends of Tel Aviv University
39 Broadway, Suite 1510 | New York, NY 10006 | 212.742.9070 | info@aftau.org
Privacy policy | Tel Aviv University