Melanoma is particularly aggressive and becoming increasingly common in Switzerland. Despite intensive research, however, there is still no treatment. Researchers from the University of Zurich, and collaborators, have now identified a gene that plays a central role in melanoma. Suppressing this gene in mice inhibits the development of melanoma and its proliferation – a discovery that could pave the way for new forms of therapy. This work was published online on July 8, 2012 in Nature Cell Biology. Until recently, it was assumed that a tumor was composed of many equivalent cells that all multiply malignantly and can thus contribute to tumor growth. According to a more recent hypothesis, however, a tumor might also consist of malignant cancer stem cells and other less aggressive tumor cells. Normally, stem cells are responsible for the formation of organs. Cancer stem cells can divide in a very similar way and develop into other tumor cells to form the tumor. Efficient tumor therapy thus primarily needs to fight cancer stem cells. Consequently, a team of stem-cell researchers from the University of Zurich headed by Professor Lukas Sommer decided to find out whether mechanisms that are important for normal stem cells also play a role in cancer stem cells. Melanoma cells are rogue skin-pigment cells formed by so-called neural crest stem cells during embryonic development. Professor Sommer’s group teamed up with dermatologists and pathologists to investigate whether cells with characteristics of these specific stem cells are present in human tumor tissue. “This was indeed the case, as we were able to prove based on numerous biopsies performed on melanoma patients,” says Professor Sommer. In particular, one gene that effectively controls the stem-cell program was highly active in all the tumor tissue studied.
Login Or Register To Read Full Story