Research continues on topical cream that could tan skin, prevent melanoma

July 17, 2014 by Katie Pence, University of Cincinnati

In 2006, UC researchers were given $1 million from the National Cancer Institute to develop a topical treatment that would not only make skin tan but would also work to both block harmful ultraviolet rays (UV) and repair damage caused by sun exposure, which could lead to skin cancer.

Today, that research continues and initial results have led to a pending patent for a product that could one day be sold to consumers, possibly reducing the incidence of skin cancer while giving that desired bronze glow that has been trending in our society for decades.

Zalfa Abdel-Malek, PhD, a member of the Cincinnati Cancer Center, a professor in the department of dermatology and a member of the UC Cancer Institute, leads this research which since its initiation has also gained institutional funding from a Dean's Discovery Award, a UC Technology Accelerator Award and most recently from a pilot project from the Center for Environmental Genetics.

"Melanoma is the deadliest forms of skin cancer if not detected early and is responsible for 80 to 85 percent of skin cancer fatalities," Abdel-Malek says. "This truly translational research is working at the cellular level to protect and repair the skin, and to increase pigmentation without , which is the desired outcome that reduces UV-induced damage in the first place."

This project is multidisciplinary in nature. Initial research involved the chemical modification of a hormone called alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH) which was accomplished in collaboration with James Knittel, PhD, a former faculty member at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy. Known to increase skin pigmentation, alpha-MSH has also been found to repair precancerous damage that UV rays cause to skin cell DNA, the genetic material within cells, a major discovery in Abdel-Malek's laboratory.

"We showed that alpha-MSH repairs DNA damage caused by excessive sun exposure, reversing the cancer-causing effects of UV radiation," says Abdel-Malek.

To make it easier for the hormone to penetrate the fatty lipid layer of the skin, researchers reduced alpha-MSH from its original peptide chain of 13 amino acids to a chain of only four amino acids and then three to make it more effective at penetrating the skin to target the melanocytes.

Abdel-Malek says colleagues from the Winkle College of Pharmacy, including Kevin Li, PhD, and from the UC Department of Cancer Biology, including Ken Greis, PhD, then studied the synthesized peptides on fresh human cadaver skin to determine whether, if applied as a topical cream, they could be absorbed through the skin and delivered to the melanocytes.

"Our results have been promising," she continues, adding that absorption was possible and that both repair and increased pigmentation were observed in cultured human skin substitutes and intact human skin.

"Melanoma cells tend to be resistant, and treatment is not often effective, as many reemerge more aggressively. Prevention is so important, and the development of a topical cream that could prevent skin cancer by increasing and repairing DNA damage caused by UV exposure could tremendously reduce the incidence of melanoma and all forms of sun-induced skin cancer."

She says she's hoping to see this technology tested in clinical trials in the next two to three years.

"It would especially benefit people with known high risk for in general, especially those with fair and red hair, and might ultimately reduce the incidence of melanoma and prevent its recurrence in these highly susceptible individuals."

Explore further: New study helps scientists understand melanoma development

Related Stories

New study helps scientists understand melanoma development

July 15, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A new study by University of Kentucky researchers shows how a genetic defect in a specific hormonal pathway may make people more susceptible to developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

New clues to skin cancer development show sunscreen is not enough

June 12, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have shown that sunscreen cannot be relied upon alone to prevent malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, according to research* published in Nature.

National AOA Research Fellowship will help shine light on skin cancer

May 21, 2014
The same enzyme that enables us to walk in the sun without shedding our skin can also enable non-melanoma skin cancer to survive and grow, researchers say.

Skin cancer patients not avoiding sun, study suggests

October 2, 2013
(HealthDay)—Some people with melanoma aren't cautious about sun exposure, a small new study suggests, even though ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is a major cause of skin cancer.

Preventable skin cancer up in Canada, study says

May 28, 2014
Melanoma cases are rising in Canada even though most other cancer rates are falling, a leading anti-cancer organization warned Wednesday, blaming tanning beds and slipping sunscreen use outdoors.

Recommended for you

Researchers develop a remote-controlled cancer immunotherapy system

January 15, 2018
A team of researchers has developed an ultrasound-based system that can non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognize and kill cancer cells.

Pancreatic tumors may require a one-two-three punch

January 15, 2018
One of the many difficult things about pancreatic cancer is that tumors are resistant to most treatments because of their unique density and cell composition. However, in a new Wilmot Cancer Institute study, scientists discovered ...

New immunotherapy approach boosts body's ability to destroy cancer cells

January 12, 2018
Few cancer treatments are generating more excitement these days than immunotherapy—drugs based on the principle that the immune system can be harnessed to detect and kill cancer cells, much in the same way that it goes ...

Cancer's gene-determined 'immune landscape' dictates progression of prostate tumors

January 12, 2018
The field of immunotherapy - the harnessing of patients' own immune systems to fend off cancer - is revolutionizing cancer treatment today. However, clinical trials often show marked improvements in only small subsets of ...

FDA approves first drug for tumors tied to breast cancer genes

January 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the first drug aimed at treating metastatic breast cancers linked to the BRCA gene mutation.

Breast cancer gene does not boost risk of death: study

January 12, 2018
Young women with the BRCA gene mutation that prompted actress Angelina Jolie's pre-emptive and much-publicised double mastectomy are not more likely to die after a breast cancer diagnosis, scientists said Friday.


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.