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

Encouraging oxygen's assault on iron may offer new way to kill lung cancer cells

November 22, 2017
Blocking the action of a key protein frees oxygen to damage iron-dependent proteins in lung and breast cancer cells, slowing their growth and making them easier to kill. This is the implication of a study led by researchers ...

One-size treatment for blood cancer probably doesn't fit all, researchers say

November 22, 2017
Though African-American men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma, most scientific research on the disease has been based on people of European descent, according to a study ...

One in four U.S. seniors with cancer has had it before

November 22, 2017
(HealthDay)—For a quarter of American seniors, a cancer diagnosis signals the return of an old foe, new research shows.

Combination immunotherapy targets cancer resistance

November 22, 2017
Cancer immunotherapy drugs have had notable but limited success because in many cases, tumors develop resistance to treatment. But researchers at Yale and Stanford have identified an experimental antibody that overcomes this ...

Researchers discover specific tumor environment that triggers cells to metastasize

November 21, 2017
A team of bioengineers and bioinformaticians at the University of California San Diego have discovered how the environment surrounding a tumor can trigger metastatic behavior in cancer cells. Specifically, when tumor cells ...

New study points the way to therapy for rare cancer that targets the young

November 21, 2017
After years of rigorous research, a team of scientists has identified the genetic engine that drives a rare form of liver cancer. The findings offer prime targets for drugs to treat the usually lethal disease, fibrolamellar ...

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.