Toronto: Scientists claim to have identified high amounts of a protein in the cells of people with melanoma, which they say is a potential new target for the treatment of the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Scientists discovered a new channel-forming protein called Pannexin (Panx1) that is expressed in normal levels on the surface of healthy skin cells.
But they found, in melanoma, Panx1 is over-produced to a pathological level.
Tests showed that by reducing the over-production of Panx1, or knocking it down, the cells revert to normal.
"We think this over-production of Panx1 enables the melanoma to become very aggressive. The cells have these extra Panx1 channels and they can leave the primary tumor and invade other tissues," said Professor Dale Laird, of the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
"When you find a protein that is high in a disease cell such as a melanoma the question becomes: is there therapeutic value in targeting a drug to that protein, to reduce its production or block its function?" Laird said in a statement.
Although skin cancer is easily treated when caught early, it usually becomes fatal if it spreads to other parts of the body.
Malignant melanoma only accounts for four per cent of all skin cancers, and yet it`s responsible for 79 per cent of skin cancer-related deaths.
The World Health Organisation said worldwide there are 200,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed each year and 65,000 deaths, the statement said.
Dr Silvia Penuela, co-author of the study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, said that more research was needed on Panx1 in melanoma tissue.
"Because it is on the skin, it would be more accessible for treatment," he said.
A potential treatment might come in the form of topical medication such as a cream or gel, it`s believed.
The research is published Journal `Biological Chemistry`.