In many research studies, scientists begin with one hypothesis and notice other factors during their research, leading to additional research and possible further understanding of a completely different medical condition. So it was in a recent study, published online in Cancer Cell.
Six years ago, researchers began investigating why certain mice, born without a certain signaling protein in the skin, had defects. Along the way, the scientists found that mice with a high level of a molecule called TSLP seemed protected from skin cancer. TSLP, which stands for thymic stromal lymphopoietin, is produced by the skin when allergic reactions are present. The molecule triggers the immune system to fight the allergic reaction. Low levels of this molecule are thought to be related to skin rashes and asthma.
But high levels of the molecule “appear to train the immune system to recognize skin cancer cells and target those cells for elimination,” according to Raphael Kopan, Ph.D. He continues, “This is an example of where hyper-vigilance of the immune system may end up paying dividends. Not only does it respond aggressively to innocuous allergen, but it begins to monitor, survey and destroy cells that are mutant.”  The results of the study were exciting for a few reasons:
- It shows the body has a natural defense against skin cancer
- There are currently drugs on the market using this molecule to treat other skin conditions
A previous study, published in PLoS Biology in 2009 showed similar results, although this study was also looking at a different medical problem and scientists could not explain why certain mice were immune to skin cancer.
The medication Calcipotriol, used to treat psoriasis, mimics Vitamin D, and increases the production of TSLP. This medication was used on mice, those with and without skin tumors. Those mice without skin cancer seemed to be protected from skin cancer, even when exposed to cancer-causing agents. Existing skin tumors shrank when the medication was applied.
Researchers are not rushing into suggesting this is the way to treat or protect individuals from skin cancer and believe that further research is needed. For example, they can’t explain why the medication Calcipotriol worked; was it because it mimics Vitamin D or is it due to the increased production of TSLP?
“Mouse Model Shows Risk for Asthma, Allergies May Improve Fight Against Skin Cancer,” 2012, Oct. 17, Staff Writer, Medical News Today
Published On: October 25, 2012