Protein linked to skin cancer `identified`

Washington: Scientists claim to have identified a protein which is linked to melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

A team at the University of North Carolina has found that the protein, known as P-Rex1, is key to the movement of cells called melanoblasts. When these cells experience uncontrolled growth, melanoma develops.

The scientists found that mice lacking the P-Rex1 protein are resistant to melanoma metastases.

When they tested human melanoma cells and tumour tissue for the protein, P-Rex1 was elevated in the majority of cases -- a clue that the protein plays an important role in the cancer`s spread.

"We know that mutations in a gene called BRAF are important for the development of melanoma and several years ago we published a collaborative paper listing 82 proteins that seem to be affected by this genetic pathway. From that list, we focused on P-Rex1," said team member Channing Der.

A drug approved this summer, vemurafenib, is the first treatment directed at the BRAF mutation. Clinical trials found that the treatment offers a significant survival benefit.

"We think that vemurafenib may work, in part, by blocking the up-regulation of P-Rex1," Der said.

Added Nancy Thomas, a team member: "Pinpointing that P-Rex1 plays a key role in metastasis gives us a better understanding of how vemurafenib may work and a target for developing new treatments."

The findings have been published in the latest edition of the `Nature Communications` journal.


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