Study identifies unique underlying molecular factors driving melanoma development

A new study reveals important molecular information that could help scientists develop more effective treatment and prevention strategies for a difficult-to-treat form of melanoma skin cancer.

In this new report, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC — James) researchers identify and describe key features of a gene mutation responsible for 15 to 20% of all melanomas.

Using a preclinical laboratory model, the team establishes that the frequency at which a specific NRAS gene mutation occurs in human melanoma is directly related to the ability of that gene mutation to initiate spontaneous melanoma formation.

“This means that properties of the mutant itself — rather than the ease at which that specific gene mutation occurs — is the cause of cancer formation,” said corresponding author Christin Burd who serves an associate professor of molecular genetics in The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Molecular Genetics and a member of the OSUCCC — James Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program.

NRAS-mutant cancers are challenging to treat because effective therapies beyond immunotherapy don’t exist yet,” said Burd. “Each cancer type seems to prefer a specific ‘flavor’ of mutant NRAS, and it has not been clear why this is.”

The OSUCCC — James wanted to know what made the melanoma-promoting NRAS mutants different than those that promote other cancer types. Scientists say this knowledge could help investigators pinpoint the early events required for melanoma formation and develop treatments that prevent the disease.

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