Researchers descover melanoma-promoting gene

July 10, 2012
The stem-cell factor Sox10 (red) is active in the tumor tissue of melanoma patients and essential for the development and spread of cancer.

Black skin cancer, also known as melanoma, is particularly aggressive and becoming increasingly common in Switzerland. Despite intensive research, however, there is still no treatment. Researchers from the University of Zurich have now discovered a gene that plays a central role in black skin cancer. Suppressing this gene in mice inhibits the development of melanoma and its proliferation – a discovery that could pave the way for new forms of therapy.   

Until recently, it was assumed that a was composed of many equivalent cells that all multiply malignantly and can thus contribute towards tumor growth. According to a more recent hypothesis, however, a tumor might also consist of malignant cancer and other less aggressive tumor cells. Normally, stem cells are responsible for the formation of organs. Cancer stem cells can divide in a very similar way and develop into other tumor cells to form the tumor. Efficient tumor therapy thus primarily needs to fight cancer stem cells. Consequently, a team of stem-cell researchers from the University of Zurich headed by Professor Sommer decided to find out whether mechanisms that are important for normal stem cells also play a role in cancer stem cells.  

Melanoma cells are rogue skin-pigment cells formed by so-called neural crest stem cells during embryonic development. Professor Sommer’s group teamed up with dermatologists and pathologists to investigate whether cells with characteristics of these specific stem cells are present in human tumor tissue. “This was indeed the case, as we were able to prove based on numerous biopsies performed on melanoma patients,” says Sommer. In particular, one gene that effectively controls the stem-cell program was highly active in all the tumor tissue studied. This gene, which is known as “Sox10”, is essential for cell division and the survival of stem cells.

The next step for the Zurich researchers was to test how Sox10 works in human melanoma cells. They determined that the gene also controls a stem-cell program in cancer cells and is necessary for cell division. In order to corroborate these findings in a living organism, the researchers ultimately used a mouse which carried similar genetic mutations to those found in human and thus developed black spontaneously. Astonishingly, the suppression of Sox10 in this animal model completely inhibited the formation and spread of cancer.

“Our research demonstrates that a tumor could probably be treated by attacking its stem cells,” concludes Sommer. The results also illustrate that such studies can primarily be successful through the close collaboration and conscious use of synergies between basic researchers and clinicians.

Explore further: Cell senescence does not stop tumor growth

Related Stories

Cell senescence does not stop tumor growth

January 19, 2012
Since cancer cells grow indefinitely, it is commonly believed that senescence could act as a barrier against tumor growth and potentially be used as a way to treat cancer. A collaboration between a cancer biologist from the ...

Cancer stem cell vaccine in development shows antitumor effect

April 2, 2012
Scientists may have discovered a new paradigm for immunotherapy against cancer by priming antibodies and T cells with cancer stem cells, according to a study published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association ...

New role for Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor in regulating skin cancer stem cells

October 19, 2011
Skin squamous cell carcinomas are amongst the most frequent cancers in humans. Recent studies suggest that skin squamous cell carcinoma, like many other human cancers, contain particular cancer cells, known as cancer stem ...

Study identifies gene critical to development and spread of lung cancer

April 24, 2012
A single gene that promotes initial development of the most common form of lung cancer and its lethal metastases has been identified by researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida. Their study suggests other forms of cancer may ...

Arsenic turns stem cells cancerous, spurring tumor growth

April 4, 2012
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered how exposure to arsenic can turn normal stem cells into cancer stem cells and spur tumor growth. Inorganic arsenic, which affects the drinking water of millions ...

Recommended for you

Bolstering fat cells offers potential new leukemia treatment

October 16, 2017
Killing cancer cells indirectly by powering up fat cells in the bone marrow could help acute myeloid leukemia patients, according to a new study from McMaster University.

Study reveals complex biology, gender differences, in kidney cancer

October 13, 2017
A new study is believed to be the first to describe the unique role of androgens in kidney cancer, and it suggests that a new approach to treatment, targeting the androgen receptor (AR), is worth further investigation.

Cholesterol byproduct hijacks immune cells, lets breast cancer spread

October 12, 2017
High cholesterol levels have been associated with breast cancer spreading to other sites in the body, but doctors and researchers don't know the cause for the link. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found ...

New drug hope for rare bone cancer patients

October 12, 2017
Patients with a rare bone cancer of the skull and spine - chordoma - could be helped by existing drugs, suggest scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, University College London Cancer Institute and the Royal ...

Scientists pinpoint surprising origin of melanoma

October 12, 2017
Led by Jean-Christophe Marine (VIB-KU Leuven), a team of researchers has tracked down the cellular origin of cutaneous melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The team was surprised to observe that these very aggressive ...

Team finds a potentially better way to treat liver cancer

October 12, 2017
A Keck School of Medicine of USC research team has identified how cancer stem cells survive. This finding may one day lead to new therapies for liver cancer, one of the few cancers in the United States with an incidence rate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.