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Researchers Identify Gene Set Tied to Skin Cancer

Update Date: Jun 10, 2013 01:01 PM EDT

Malignant skin melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Since this type of skin cancer is extremely lethal, researchers attempted to study it with the hopes of creating future medications to treat it. The researchers, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, UK and the Methodist Research Institute in Houston, TX, U.S, identified a set of genes that appeared to be responsible for the changing shapes of melanoma cells.

The researchers identified this particular set of genes in fruit flies and in human cells samples. Under the setting of a lab, the researchers were able to switch off the genes' activity. They then noticed that when the genes were turned off, the melanoma cells were able to change their shapes. When these cancer cells were round, the shape allowed them to travel better in between healthy cells and through bloodstreams. These round cancer cells were also able to invade soft tissues in the brain. The other shape that the cells could have taken was an elongated form, which allowed them to penetrate through harder regions, such as the bones. The researchers found that cancer cells were able to switch between shapes, which could explain why melanoma cells spread so quickly and lead to a very lethal case of skin cancer.

"The ability to change shape allows melanoma cells to invade lots of different tissues throughout the body, particularly the liver, lungs and brain. We knew these cells were shape-shifters but we didn't know what controlled these changes," Dr Chris Bakal, study author and Wellcome Trust research fellow, said reported by Medical Xpress. "This research arms us with new information about how they change shape and provides a new set of targets for the development of drugs for melanoma skin cancer."

The researchers hope that this finding could help with future research into possible medicine and treatment options for this type of cancer. The study was funded by the Cancer Research UK, Wellcome Trust and National Institutes of Health. The findings were published in Nature Cell Biology

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