May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. An important piece of information to remember is that the most common skin cancers, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC), generally have high survival rates. The five-year survival rate for SCC is 99 percent when detected early, while BCC has a 100 percent survival for cases that have not metastasized or spread to other sites.
The least common skin cancer is melanoma. Despite being less prevalent than SCC and BCC, this malignant disease is accountable for most skin cancer deaths, as melanoma is aggressive and quickly spreads to other areas of the body. In response, scientists and researchers from all over the world are focused on melanoma.
The Road to Finding a Cure for Melanoma
Carmit Levy, an Israeli researcher from Tel Aviv University, discussed melanoma metastasis during a recent Melanoma Research Alliance retreat in Washington. Her colleague Ronit Satchi-Fainaro chaired a session reviewing breakthroughs in novel therapeutic approaches.
“We are trying to understand the triggers that cause a melanoma tumor to become metastatic, because that’s the deadly part,” says Levy. “We try to break it down in the skin before it invades the lymph system and spreads around the body.”
The number of melanoma is on the rise. As of 2018, Australia and New Zealand have the most cases, with the United States in 17th place, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021, 106,110 new cases of melanoma will arise in the U.S., and about 7,180 people will die due to this aggressive disease.
Breakthroughs in Skin Cancer Research
The groundbreaking melanoma and skin research in Israel concluded the following.
- How and why melanoma spreads quickly
In 2016, Levy’s team of Israeli, American, and European researchers uncovered the metastatic mechanism of melanoma.
They found that before a melanoma tumor metastasizes to other internal organs, it transmits vesicles containing molecules of microRNA. These molecules work to “prepare” the skin’s inner layer (dermis) to receive and transport the malignant cells.
The researchers also detected chemical substances that can halt the process and are therefore possible drug candidates. The study is ongoing, tells Levy.
Yet another promising outcome of this groundbreaking study is that the changes in the dermis triggered by the microRNA and the presence of the vesicles could help healthcare providers detect melanoma in its earliest stages when treatments are most effective.
Levy went on to explain that this study was an all-important step on the road to discovering a full remedy for one of the deadliest cancers in the world. She hopes that their findings will pave the way for melanoma to become a non-threatening, curable disease in the future.
- A nano-vaccine for melanoma prevention
Satchi-Fainaro’s team of scientists from Tel Aviv University are developing a nano-vaccine for melanoma.
The researchers injected mice with nanoparticles of two peptides expressed in melanoma cells. The experiment stimulated the mice’s immune system and primed it to recognize and attack cells containing the peptides, which is similar to how vaccines defend against viral diseases.
Currently, the nano-vaccine is effective in preventing melanoma in mice with good overall health; in addressing primary melanoma tumors in mice; and in treating metastatic brain tissue among melanoma patients.
Satchi-Fainaro’s revolutionary model could be a strong foundation for additional nano-vaccines for cancers of different types.
- Stopping melanoma from becoming lethal
Levy and fellow researcher Tamar Golan found that fat cells transfer a specific protein that lets melanoma cells spread beyond the skin and turn deadly.
They were able to block the process in mouse models successfully. Now, existing drug therapies for other cancers are undergoing extensive testing to inhibit the protein transfer from fat cells to melanoma cells.
- Understanding the squeezed nucleus of melanoma cells
Gabi Gerlitz, a molecular biologist from Ariel University, dedicated his study to determine what happens to melanoma cells’ nucleus during the migration process — a crucial step in melanoma metastasis. The nucleus of all cells contains its genetic material, the chromosomes.
The migration process of melanoma cells involves squeezing themselves to pass through blood vessels and tissues. Squeezing condenses the chromosomes inside the nucleus, which causes genetic and physical alterations that enable successful migration.
Gerlitz’s mouse studies highlight the fact that condensation in the nucleus interferes with migration. Ongoing studies are searching for factors that affect chromosome condensation and overall cell migration.
- Slow fatty acid metabolism leads to immunotherapy fail
Immunotherapy, which boosts the immune system to fight cancer, is effective in only 40 percent of melanoma patients. A patient’s fatty acid metabolism may be contributing to immunotherapy fails, according to a study by researchers from Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, Yale School of Medicine, and the Salk Institute.
If a patient’s fatty cells metabolize at a slow pace, cancer cells gain the opportunity to “conceal” themselves from the immune system’s T-cells that are supposed to eliminate them.
For now, this discovery can assist doctors in choosing the best candidates for immunotherapy – men and women with faster fatty acid metabolism. A future goal includes speeding up fatty acid metabolism to allow cancer immunotherapy to be effective in more melanoma patients.
- Personalized immunotherapy is 90 percent effective
Research from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School with scientists from England and the United States concluded that training the immune system of mice to better identify and target melanoma cells may improve the overall success rate for melanoma immunotherapy.
The scientists were on the lookout for “signposts” of melanoma in mice models and selected those to target in each case. The approach proved effective against 90 percent of the cells.
Is Immunotherapy Right for You? Find Out Now
Conventional treatments such as radiation therapy and invasive procedures work for most basal and squamous cell skin cancers. However, even some small malignancies can be a challenge to treat if they are in hard-to-reach areas or when they spread to other internal organs. Fortunately, personalized immunotherapies and targeted therapies have led to vast improvements in survival for patients with melanoma over the last decade.
If you are curious about your eligibility for cancer immunotherapy, contact us today to schedule a consultation. As an authority in immunotherapy for skin cancers, our doctors are committed to targeting the root of melanoma using the latest advancements in biological technology.