University Scientists Find Gene Controlling Melanoma Spread

December 03, 1996

By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC-CH News Services


(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL -- Scientists at Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have discovered a gene they called KiSS-1 that controls spread of an often deadly form of cancer known as malignant melanoma.

In work so far limited to laboratory mice, the researchers stopped the cancer from spreading by inoculating the animals with genetic material from human chromosome 6.

Their finding, which occurred in human cancer cells grown in the mice, should help doctors distinguish between melanomas that will colonize other organs and those that will not. Before long, the researchers say, it also might contribute to improved treatment for the illness, which is increasing across the United States.

A report on the findings appears in the Dec. 4 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Authors of the report include Drs. Jeong-Hyung Lee and Danny R. Welch, postdoctoral fellow and associate professor of pathology, respectively, at Penn State, and graduate student Karen Phillips and Dr. Bernard Weissman, associate professor of pathology, both at UNC-CH. The National Center for Human Genome Research's Dr. Jeffrey Trent helped with the study.

Weissman, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said the researchers found KiSS-1 on chromosome 1 and have not yet identified the master gene they know to be located on chromosome 6. He cautioned that cancers in humans could work differently.

"Still, if this indicates there are targets for therapy that would prevent human tumors from spreading from their original site, that would be a tremendous boon for therapy," he said.

Much research has focused on genes known as P53 and RBP16 that contribute to development of primary, or original tumors, the scientist said. Little is known about what genetic changes occur to allow cells from original tumors to enter the blood stream or lymphatic system and form secondary tumors throughout the body in a process known as metastasis.

Weissman and his colleagues used human melanomas in the mouse model just before spreading began. With the genetic material from human chromosome 6, they found they could prevent the cancer invasion almost entirely. In effect, they restored part of the normal function of the cancer cell that inhibits metastasis.

The next step will be to determine whether the gene, as they suspect, is absent or malfunctions in humans whose melanoma has spread, he said.

"If that's the case, we could start looking at what the gene's normal function is," Weissman said. "Then perhaps we could replace it or use compounds that mimic its function. This work should lead to a very good marker for determining if a cancer has already spread."

The new gene is the second tumor suppresser gene that has been identified, Weissman said. Dr. Patricia Steeg of the National Cancer Institute found the first, an apparently less potent form associated with breast cancer.

"The identification of metastasis-suppressing genes should have far-reaching implications for the diagnosis and treatment of disseminated cancer," wrote Drs. Isaiah J. Fidler and Robert Radinsky of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in an accompanying journal editorial. "However, translation of these findings to clinical reality still faces serious challenges."

By the time tumors are diagnosed, many appear to have different ways of spreading, and cells that can allow the cancers to spread may be masked.

"New therapeutic approaches directed toward increasing the expression of genes that suppress metastasis require detailed understanding of their regulation and function, a daunting task indeed," the two added. "Regardless of these formidable challenges, the new understanding of the molecular biology of cancer metastasis ... offers unprecedented opportunities for the inhibition and therapy of cancer metastasis. We are looking forward to these advancements."

- 30 -

Note: Weissman's number is (919) 966-7533. To contact Welch, call Gail Brown at (717) 531-8604.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.