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Researchers identify key trigger in melanoma progression

Published on 03/05/17 at 12:26pm

Researchers from life sciences research institute VIB and KU Leuven in Belgium in collaboration with INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, have identified a new factor within the development of melanoma, which may lead to a more robust and novel treatment of the disease.

Melanoma – or skin cancer – is known for its ability to spread quickly and has proved resistant to many of today’s treatments, and can even display genetic differences based on the presence of ultra-violet light. In the new study, researchers discovered that the expression of FES – an ‘oncogene’ able to transform regular cells into cancerous ones in diseases such as leukaemia – is lost in many human cases of the disease.

The team identified this gene along with eleven others implicated in the development of melanoma through the study of mouse models carrying “simplified” versions of the human form of the disease.

FES, however, behaves differently in melanoma cases than in other forms of cancer, as Professor Jean-Christophe Marine of VIB-KU Leuven explained: “To our surprise, we obtained clear evidence that FES strongly suppresses melanoma growth and viability.  Its expression is silenced in more than 30% of human melanoma lesions. Importantly, we showed that FES deletion in mice accelerated the growth of melanoma tumours.”

The researchers then sought a way to restore FES expression, utilising epigenetic drugs to facilitate DNA demethylation.

“We will definitely further explore this new putative therapeutic strategy,” Marine added. “Importantly, in the same time our data raise concerns about ongoing clinical trials with broad spectrum tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Some of these inhibitors inactivate FES and therefore may lead to undesired effects.”

Matt Fellows

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