UPV/EHU researchers have developed a method for the diagnosis and prognosis of cutaneous melanoma, the type of skin cancer with the highest mortality rate. This method will help not only in the more effective early detection of this cancer, but also in the development of more personalised treatments.
Melanoma is a malignant tumour caused by the transformation of melanocytes, the cells responsible for synthesising melanin, which protects us from the negative effects of solar radiation. Although melanoma is the least common of skin cancers, it has the highest mortality rate, largely due to its high metastatic potential.
For this reason, “early diagnosis is the best tool we have, to date, for saving patients. In fact, patients with early-stage melanoma have a 95% survival rate, while 5-year survival falls to 50% in patients with metastasis,” explains Yoana Arroyo, researcher in the UPV/EHU Department of Cell Biology and Histology, where this research was conducted.
The “Tumour Markers and New Therapies” research group at the Department of Cell Biology and Histology has been working in the field of cutaneous melanoma for several years. Its work aims to identify a set of markers that can be used in the diagnosis and/or prognosis of malignant melanoma or which are responsible for susceptibility. “Our strategy began by looking for proteins whose expression might be altered in melanoma cells in comparison with normal melanocytes and, based on that result, we have been investigating the corresponding genes by studying their expression, mutations and epigenetics,” states Dr. Arroyo.
The results confirmed that melanoma cells display characteristic patterns of gene and protein expression; these make it possible to distinguish between tumour and non-tumour status, and within tumour status, too, it is possible to distinguish those cells with an invasive capacity and therefore more likely to lead to the onset of metastasis. Like this, researchers have identified new molecular biomarkers that are relevant in melanoma diagnosis, prognosis and susceptibility.
Seeking more personalised treatments
UPV/EHU researchers are currently in the validation phase of candidate genes by analysing their expression levels in biopsies of melanoma and nevi (growths of non-malignant melanocytes). The biopsies come from patients diagnosed at the University Hospitals of Cruces and Basurto. The aim is “to find a combination of molecular markers that will enable us to perform diagnosis and prognosis of the melanoma in the most effective way possible”.
“This diagnosis method is a way of identifying those patients who are more likely to develop metastasis, so that their treatment and survival can be improved. In addition, this study could open up new avenues of research for the development of new, more personalized treatments”, explains Dr. Arroyo.