Cell-Signaling May Effectively Halt Melanoma Spread

In one of the most extensive studies on the effects of cell signaling molecules in melanoma tumors, researchers at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center of NYU’s Langone Medical Center have discovered two bits of non-coding genes in primary melanoma tumors that appear to slow down the progression of the disease. With these findings, medical science takes an important leap forward in finding a way to slow down–if not entirely halt–the spread of cancer.


The genes identified in the study– miR-382 and miR-516b–are collectively known as “microRNAs”. These cell-signaling molecules may effectively pave the way for future research into melanoma treatment, helping doctors identify melanoma cases that have a high likelihood of spreading aggressively, and causing the death of the patient.


The research team responsible for the initial study is now conducting a series of follow-up studies that aim to determine the effectiveness of microRNAs with regard to identifying high risk melanoma cases. Depending on the results of the study, microRNAs may prove invaluable for helping doctors pinpoint patients in which the tumor has an elevated risk of making its way to the brain.


The suppressor microRNAs were discovered during the analysis of tumor tissue cells donated by 92 melanoma patients, both male and female. Of these patients, 48 had melanoma that was considered to be progressing aggressively. The study showed that the two microRNAs in question effectively slowed tumor growth, but had a less apparent effect on primary tumors that were spreading aggressively.


The tumor suppressing effect of microRNAs is an especially significant discovery that could prove valuable for cancer diagnosis and treatment well into the future. According to the study’s senior investigator Eva Hernando, PhD, the next step forward is in determining how the information provided by microRNAs could help identify aggressively progressing cancer cases. Hernando, who is a cell biologist and associate professor at NYU Langone, also said that subsequent studies would determine whether or not early aggressive treatment would be beneficial in terms of increasing melanoma survivability.


Others in the NYU Langone research team were equally optimistic about the potential of microRNAs for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Oncologist Iman Osman, MD, who served as co-investigator in the study said that the role of microRNAs in influencing tumor progression and lifespan will help determine whether or not they have the same effect on other types of tumors. Osman, who is the associate director of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone, also expressed hope that future studies into cell signaling molecules help in the discovery of cancer treatments and interventions.


Melanoma is one of the deadliest and most common forms of cancer in the world. According to estimates by the American Cancer Society, 73,870 patients will be diagnosed with melanoma in the United States in 2015. Of these cases, 9,940 are expected to result in the death of the patient.


In the quest to fight cancer, where victories are few and far between, microRNAs may point the way to a future solution. Although medical science is still a long way from finding a way to effectively cure cancer, the current progress in cell signaling technology is definitely a huge step forward.