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Investigators may have discovered how melanoma spreads to other organs in the body

Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel may have discovered the metastatic mechanism of melanoma, according to findings published in a report online in the journal Nature Cell Biology (Aug. 22, 2016).

“We have discovered how the cancer spreads to distant organs and found ways to stop the process before the metastatic stage,” said Carmit Levy, PhD, of the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at Tel Aviv University, Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The investigators began their study by examining pathology samples taken from melanoma patients. “We looked at samples of early melanoma, before the invasive stage,” Dr. Levy said, who was quoted in a press release.

“To our surprise we found changes in the morphology of the dermis that had never before been reported. Our next task was to find out what these changes were, and how they related to melanoma.”

Overall, the researchers discovered that before spreading to other organs, a melanoma tumour sends out vesicles containing molecules of microRNA. “These induce the morphological changes in the dermis in preparation for receiving and transporting the cancer cells. It then became clear to us that by blocking the vesicles, we might be able to stop the disease altogether,” noted Dr. Levy.

Transforming melanoma into a non-threatening illness

After discovering the metastatic mechanism of melanoma, the researchers proceeded to look for substances that could intervene and block the process in its earliest stages. They found two such chemicals: SB202190 inhibits the delivery of the vesicles from the melanoma tumour to the dermis; and U0126 prevents the morphological changes in the dermis even after the arrival of the vesicles.

Both substances may serve as promising candidates for future therapies, the authors noted. In addition, they added that the changes in the dermis, as well as the vesicles themselves, can be used as powerful indicators for early diagnosis of melanoma.

“Our study is an important step on the road to a full remedy for the deadliest skin cancer,” said Dr. Levy. “We hope that our findings will help turn melanoma into a non-threatening, easily curable disease.”

The Tel Aviv University research group worked in close collaboration with Prof. Jörg D. Hoheisel and Laureen Sander at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany; Dr. Shoshi Greenberger at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, Israel; and Dr. Ronen Brenner at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel. The lab research was led by Dr. Shani Dror of Dr. Levy’s research group.

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