Our cells continuously receive information from their environment, translate this data and then react to it. This communication system is called cell signaling and it is responsible for many of our bodies functions, including generating new skin cells when others are damaged. Research has shown that cancer cells have “faulty” cell signaling. Some of this causes cells to attract blood vessels to gain nutrients to grow. Other signaling allows cells to grow out of control.
Scientists at the University of Texas have been studying the role of cell signaling in melanoma and indicate they have discovered why certain drugs used to control skin cancer do not work, or, in some cases, actually accelerate the growth of the skin cancer. Researchers believe this information can help to develop more effective cancer treatments.
According to the study, there are four proteins which aid in cells multiplying – Ras, BRaf, MEK, ERK –and when mutations occur in Ras and BRaf proteins, the signaling is locked to “on” causing the cells to multiply more than they should. There are already drugs available which can stop this reaction when it is caused by the protein BRaf, but there are not yet any drugs available to stop the process caused by the Ras protein.
Scientists in the study explain that drugs used to stop the abnormal cell signaling from BRaf proteins can actually cause those that are caused by Ras to enhance the abnormal signal, resulting in accelerated cancer growth. Genetic testing can help doctors determine whether the melanoma is being caused by Ras or BRaf proteins to avoid using medications that can worsen instead of improve cancer.
A previous study, completed at the University of Vienna showed that the Ras protein caused cells to continue to multiple only when coupled with the Raf-1 protein. This study used mice and when the Raf-1 protein was removed, the cancer regressed. Researcher Manuela Baccarini also believes that an additional protein Rok is also involved in these melanomas and feels that if a substance that destroys the Raf-Rok complex, it would be beneficial in treating this type of skin cancer.
“Basic Mechanism of Skin Cancer Development Illuminated,” 2009, Aug 3, University of Vienna, Science Daily
“Discovery in Cell Signaling Could Help Fight Against Melanoma,” 2012, May 3, Rob Cahill, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston