May 23, 2011

New Target for Skin Cancer

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Researchers say they have discovered a new drug target for squamous cell carcinoma -- the second most common form of skin cancer.

Each year, more than 700,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed. This type of skin cancer develops in the cells that make up most of the skin's upper layers. Squamous cell carcinomas are most commonly found in areas exposed to the sun such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.

Investigators at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found a protein called alpha-catenin acts like a tumor suppressor. They studied mice that were bred to lack a copy of the gene that makes the protein alpha-catenin in hair follicle stem cells. Results showed these mice developed squamous cell carcinoma.

"The fact that alpha-catenin-deficient mice developed skin cancer led us to conclude that the loss of this protein is an important event in cancer development and that alpha-catenin functions as a tumor suppressor," Valeri Vasioukhin, Ph.D., was quoted as saying. "We also found that unlike normal cells, alpha-catenin-mutant cells cannot stop dividing when they become very crowded in the Petri dish -- this characteristic is one of the hallmarks of cancer cells."

The investigators also found that alpha-catenin controls the activity of a protein known as Yap1, which can cause cancer if activated.

"We found that alpha-catenin controls cell proliferation by regulating Yap1, which is active in cells missing alpha-catenin. Therefore, Yap1 is likely to be an excellent target for the treatment of patients with squamous cell carcinoma," Vasioukhin said.

SOURCE: Science Signaling, May 19, 2011