Melanoma Metastasis Research Breakthrough
November 15, 2012

Stopping The Spread Of Melanoma By Removing Protein Affecting Metastasis

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University recently revealed that, through lab experiments, they have been able to stop the spread of cancer from a tumor to other parts of the body, otherwise known as metastasis, in melanoma. Using the findings from the study, the researchers will be able to look into developing new targeted therapies that can help stop metastasis in melanoma and possible other types of cancers.

With this breakthrough, the scientist believe that they have the ability to eliminate melanoma differentiation associated gene-9 (mda-9)/syntenin, a specific protein. In the experiment, the researchers discovered that Raf kinase inhibitor protein (RKIP) was able to interact and suppress with mda-9/syntenin. The protein was originally cloned in a laboratory and past studies showed how it interacted with c-Src, another protein, to produce a set of chemical reactions that later boosted metastasis.

"Prior research suggests that RKIP plays a seminal role in inhibiting cancer metastasis, but, until now, the mechanisms underlying this activity were not clear," explained Paul Fisher, the program co-leader of Cancer Molecular Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, in a prepared statement. "In addition to providing a new target for future therapies, there is potential for using these two genes as biomarkers for monitoring melanoma development and progression."

The team of investigators discovered that RKIP become attached to mda-9/syntenin, which resulted in limiting the expression of mda-9/syntenin. With the finding of this physical interaction, the scientists believe that they could possibly create small molecules that are similar to RKIP and the molecules could be used as drugs to treated metastasis in cancers like melanoma.

There was also a difference in terms of the level of mda-9/syntenin and RKIP. While malignant and metastasis melanoma cells had higher levels of mda-9/sytnenin compared to RKIP, the healthy melanocyte cells that create pigment in eyes, hair, and skin had higher levels of RKIP than mda-9/syntenin. The researchers believe that different levels in the proteins could be used in diagnosis, particularly in following the progression of a disease or tracking a patient´s response to a particular treatment.

"Our findings represent a major breakthrough in understanding the genetic mechanisms that lead to metastasis in melanoma. Prior studies have shown that levels of mda-9/syntenin are elevated in a majority of cancers, including melanoma, suggesting that our findings could be applicable for a wide range of diseases," continued Fisher, who also serves as chairman of VCU´s Department of Human and Molecular Genetics and director of the VCU Institutes of Molecular Medicine, in the statement.

Moving forward, the scientists plan to determine how they can develop small molecules that mimic RKIP. These molecules could potentially be utilized in new treatments for melanoma. The research comes at a particularly crucial time as over one million cases of skin cancer have been diagnosed each year in the U.S. According to the researchers, melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. The National Institutes of Health, the National Foundation for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, among other organizations, provided funding for the study.

The findings were recently published online in the journal Cancer Research.