Public Release: 

Researchers identify new method to selectively kill metastatic melanoma cells

Virginia Commonwealth University

RICHMOND, Va. (August 3, 2009) - An international team of researchers has identified a new method for selectively killing metastatic melanoma cells, which may lead to new areas for drug development in melanoma - a cancer that is highly resistant to current treatment strategies.

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University, in collaboration with a team of researchers led by Maria S. Soengas, Ph.D., with the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid, Spain, found that activation of a specific molecular pathway triggers melanoma cells to begin a process of self-destruction - through self-digestion and programmed cell death. The study is published in the August 4 print issue of the journal Cancer Cell.

"The present research provides a path that could lead with further studies and a phase I clinical trial for safety to the development of a strategy that reenergizes the immune system to destroy this highly aggressive cancer," said lead investigator at VCU, Paul B. Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., the first incumbent of the Thelma Newmeyer Corman Endowed Chair in Cancer Research with the VCU Massey Cancer Center.

According to Fisher, the pathway that is activated involves the melanoma differentiation associated gene-5, or mda-5, a gene initially cloned in Fisher's laboratory, that activates a protein called NOXA that is involved with programmed cell death. This series of chemical reactions results in induction of a cell-killing process involving self-digestion that leads to programmed cell death specifically in melanoma cells. Fisher said that mda-5 is a key regulator of innate immunity that induces interferon beta production limiting replication of specific pathogenic viruses.

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This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Spanish Association Against Cancer and the Spanish National Cancer Research Center.

The project team in Spain was led by Soengas, with the Melanoma Laboratory, Molecular Pathology Program, Spanish National Cancer Research Center, Madrid, Spain. Fisher, who also is professor and chair of the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, and director of the VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine in the VCU School of Medicine, lead the investigative team at VCU which included Paola M. Barral, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics; and Rupesh Dash, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scientist, in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, and the VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine.

About the VCU Massey Cancer Center: The VCU Massey Cancer Center is one of 65 National Cancer Institute-designated institutions that leads and shapes America's cancer research efforts. Working with all kinds of cancers, the Center conducts basic, translational and clinical cancer research, provides state-of-the-art treatments and clinical trials, and promotes cancer prevention and education. Since 1974, Massey has served as an internationally recognized center of excellence. It offers more clinical trials than any other institution in Virginia, serving patients in Richmond and in four satellite locations. Its 1,000 researchers, clinicians and staff members are dedicated to improving the quality of human life by developing and delivering effective means to prevent, control and ultimately to cure cancer. Visit Massey online at www.massey.vcu.edu or call 1-877-4-MASSEY.

About VCU and the VCU Medical Center: Virginia Commonwealth University is the largest university in Virginia with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located on two downtown campuses in Richmond, VCU enrolls 32,000 students in 205 certificate and degree programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-five of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU's 15 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University compose the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation's leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.

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