Scientists discover mutant melanoma gene

Melbourne: Australian researchers have claimed to have discovered a mutant gene that increases the risk of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

According to an ABC report, Graham Mann of Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research, said the mutant gene, known as MITF, is more commonly found in people who have many moles and a family history of melanoma.

He said a large-sample study found that the gene is carried by around 200,000 Australians.

The findings have been published in the latest issue of science journal Nature, and Mann said the research will hopefully lead to better treatments for people at risk.

"What we would hope is that because we understand how that mechanism is working, it might be possible to prevent that by a safe medication that could be designed or maybe an existing medication that`s out there," he said.

"Taken regularly, [it] may be a way of reducing the risk for people who are carrying this mutation.

We don`t know that yet, but at least knowing how the mutation works will give us a big start for that," he said.

MITF discovery was made by a team of researchers from the University of Sydney`s Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research.

According to AAP report, to get a better understanding the scientists used advanced DNA sequencing to examine the entire genomes of a small number of people with a strong family history of melanoma.

They not only identified the MITF mutation to be a common one for people generally, but also discovered how the faulty gene works.

MITF controls the growth of melanocyte cells which make the skin turn brown after sun exposure.

But if the gene is faulty it seems to be more sensitive and have stronger effects, paving the way for melanoma.

Mann said that the researchers were continuing to examine the data from their genome study and expected to identify more genetic mutations linked to melanoma.

He said being able to identify mutations could one day lead to routine screening for people with a family history of melanoma and the development of drugs to reduce their risk of developing the skin cancer.

"That would lead to a lot less melanomas," he said.


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