As far as skin cancers go, advanced invasive melanoma is quite aggressive – treatment options are still lacking effectiveness. Even though it is quite rare, accounting for only 1% of skin cancers, it results in the most skin-cancer related deaths annually. That is why researchers focusing on melanoma continue to try to understand how the disease grows, in order to catch it in earlier stages. New research published in Nature Communications showcases a finding that offers previously undiscovered information on the origin of melanoma cells.
The study reports the surprising conclusion that hair follicles may be acting as another origin point for melanoma in immature pigment cells. Although the research was conducted in animal trials on mice and has only yet to be proven in human tissue, the researchers hope that their work will lead the way to develop future treatments.
First study author Qi Sun, Ph.D., who researches dermatology and cell biology at the New York University School of Medicine, says "Our mouse model is the first to demonstrate that follicular oncogenic melanocyte stem cells can establish melanomas, which promises to make it useful in identifying new diagnostics and treatments for melanoma."
As the researchers discovered, melanoma begins in the hair follicles in melanocyte – cells that make melanin – stem cells. In their investigations, they found that the cell environment inside hair follicles stimulates melanocyte stem cells to become cancerous, grow, and later migrate to the epidermis skin layer where they evolve into tumors.
Tracking the origin points of melanoma could potentially make it easier to follow its progression, and therefore lead to new treatment options, especially for those patients who are diagnosed in the advanced stages.
"While our findings will require confirmation in further human testing,” states Qi Sun, “they argue that melanoma can arise in pigment stem cells originating both in follicles and in skin layers, such that some melanomas have multiple stem cells of origin."