At University of Toledo, the laboratories of Drs. Kam Yeung and Ivana de la Serna discovered a new explanation for aggressive melanoma. Ila Datar, a PhD graduate student in the biomedical science program, conducted studies that showed the involvement of a micro-RNA that increases spreading of cancer cells. Work is now directed toward finding a reason for increased production of the micro-RNA.
According to a news report from the university, the research team believes the B-Raf protein is involved in this increased production. B-Raf is a protein involved in the cell cycle, which regulates cell division. Usually, B-Raf inhibits cell division to maintain a normal level of skin cells. In the case of melanoma, B-Raf is often mutated, allowing cells to continue replicating when this is not necessary.
Mutations in B-Raf could result from ultraviolet radiation from the sun. If these mutations occur in melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin to protect other cells from harmful rays, increased cell growth can lead to melanoma.
One way of preventing B-Raf-induced melanoma is using a drug to inhibit its activity. Some drug companies have capitalized on this idea, and many patients have seen large improvements during six months’ treatment with the drug. However, patients’ melanoma often becomes resistant to therapy, creating the need for alternate treatments.
The new approach from Drs. Yeung and Serna focuses on micro-RNAs, which have been shown to be important to progression of other cancer types. They are interested in how B-Raf interacts with these molecules, and are using human melanoma cells in laboratory experiments.
In one of the experiments, scientists grow melanoma cells in a gel-like substance that mimics the human body. The researchers can then determine how quickly the cells penetrate the gel to understand how they migrate through tissue into other organs. Another experiment uses an engineered mouse that has a mutated version of B-Raf, to identify the effect this mutation has on micro-RNAs.
Ultimately, the goal is to inhibit the offending micro-RNA that contributes to melanoma. By understanding how the mechanism behind this micro-RNA production, the team can investigate therapeutic options to decrease its production. These studies may then lead to clinical trials and eventual marketing of life-saving therapies.