Scientists Discover New Drug That Stops the Spread of 90% of Melanoma Cells

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. (Photo: Getty Images)

Despite efforts to raise public awareness about the disease, cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, have been on the rise in the United States for years. Now, scientists have discovered a new drug that can stop metastasis of the disease, that is, the development of melanoma cells elsewhere in the body — by as much as 90 percent.

The findings are courtesy of a new study published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. For the study, researchers injected immuno-compromised mice with human melanoma cells and exposed them to a man-made, small-molecule drug that targets a gene’s ability to produce RNA molecules (one of the major building blocks of life) and certain proteins found in melanoma tumors. Those genes typically cause the disease to spread, but when they were exposed to the compound, up to 90 percent of the cells were prevented from metastasizing.

The potential drug, known as CCG-203971, is the same as the one the researchers have been studying as a potential treatment for scleroderma, a rare and often fatal autoimmune disease that causes the hardening of skin tissue, lungs, heart, kidneys, and other organs.

According to the American Cancer Society, there were an estimated 76,000 new melanoma cases diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016, and more than 10,000 people were expected to die of the disease last year. Unfortunately, the rates of melanoma have been rising across the nation, and it’s currently one of the most common cancers among young women.

Risk factors for the disease include both indoor and outdoor tanning; having light skin or skin that freckles or burns easily; having blond hair; and having a personal or family history of skin cancer.

The co-author of the study, Richard Neubig, M.D., Ph.D., the chair and professor of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Beauty that the findings are promising, because melanomas can end up in the lungs or brain, even after a tumor is removed. Preventing the spread of cancer cells could potentially save lives, he says.

There are two different kinds of melanomas — one kind that is more likely to metastasize and another that is less likely to do so, Neubig explains. Doctors can tell from biopsy results which a patient has. If patients have a melanoma that is likely to metastasize, doctors could potentially give them this new compound early, to stop the cancer from spreading, he says.

What about the other 10 percent of melanoma cancer cells? Neubig points out that his experiment was conducted on mice that were immuno-compromised, to allow the melanoma tumors to take hold. “In humans, if you could reduce the size of the metastasis by 90 percent, it’s possible the immune system could take over and finish the job,” he says.

Neubig says it’s “hard to know” what the next step will be, but says he’s hopeful that clinical trials might start in the next two to four years.

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