WSU researchers find critical link for melanoma, most deadly skin cancer

PULLMAN, Wash. - A critical step in understanding melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer  —  has been taken by researchers at Washington State University's School of Molecular Biosciences. It may lead to a better understanding of which mutations are important for causing skin cancer and potentially identify new drug targets for treatment.

Working with researchers from Georgia State University, WSU scientists published a paper Friday in the journal "Nature Communications" that introduces a breakthrough in melanoma research by investigating the human genome. While using a new, next-generation sequencing based technology developed at WSU, researchers found that certain proteins change the shape of DNA when they bind, thereby massively increasing the likelihood of DNA damage and mutation caused by sunlight. These frequent mutations likely also increase the chance of a skin cell becoming a melanoma. The number one cause of melanoma is exposure to UV radiation that can come from the sun, sun lamps and sun tanning beds. While it was already known that UV radiation can mutate DNA, this research identifies one likely reason sun exposure is such a potent causer of cancer in humans. 

"UV-induced DNA damage is the major risk factor for melanoma, and DNA repair is a vital first line of defense against DNA damage to prevent mutations and cancer," says Steven Roberts, assistant professor, WSU School of Molecular Biosciences in WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. "These pivotal results establish a fundamental research tool in cancer research and confirm we are on the correct course to further discovery by mapping UV damage in human cells."