Ultraviolet Light, Mice, and Melanoma

  • Posted on November 18, 2014 by Pharma Models Blogging Team in Oncology

One of the most alarming concerns of a sunny sky is the potential for developing skin cancer. Malignant melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but animal models for this cancer may provide answers and improved treatments for patients.

Nearly 52,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with melanoma annually while about 8,000 pass away from this cancer. The Nature journal reports that a mouse model may help researchers in uncovering the path carcinogens, like tobacco or ultraviolet light, take when effecting skin or lung tissue.

A genetic region of the mouse model was studied, which is disabled in 50 percent of human cancers and encrypts two varying genes. By targeting this region, researchers are finding it may be a useful cancer therapy since these two genes seem to stop cells from becoming malignant.

The gene p16INK4a seems to have an innate connection to cancers that are caused by carcinogens or environmental factors. Lung cancer and melanoma are at the top of the list. The p16INK4a gene is located in the CDKN2A region.

Two groups of researchers disabled this gene in mice, which showed that the gene slightly affects the development of tumors in the animal models. The scientists found that once the two genes are translated into proteins, they are able to prevent cell division, which keeps a cell from becoming cancerous. One interesting and unexplained factor is that the two proteins vary significantly in structure and function.

In past years, it was discovered that mice lacking the p19 gene but producing p16 proteins were highly likely to develop cancer. This brought forth speculation as to whether the p16 gene is important for the cell or not. However, in patients with melanoma, it is very common for the p16 gene to be mutated without interference from p19.

The mouse model that was used by a research team from the Netherlands was engineered to have one copy of the p19 gene instead of two, which is similar to a hereditary type of human melanoma. This animal model may help scientists discover exactly how melanomas spread throughout the body and form more serious tumors in the liver, lungs, and the lymph nodes.

A publication from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings discusses how melanoma is one of the most resistant and aggressive cancers with a likelihood to metastasize. The rate of melanoma cases has also been steadily rising over the last 30 years.

Uncovering the connections between ultraviolet sunlight and human genes is imperative to the understanding of melanoma pathogenesis. Research using relevant animal models can greatly benefit the study of melanoma progression.

Specifically, animals that can be modified genetically and immunologically can provide important answers to scientists. Various animal models have been used to study melanoma including swine, horses, fish, guinea pigs, and hamsters. Essentially, animal models will play a large role over the coming years in uncovering the genetic basis of melanoma pathogenesis.

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Categories: Oncology

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