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Cancer-Fighting Gene Guards Against Sun Damage

Posted: March 8, 2007

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"The tanning response is a protective response to injury, which can prevent further injury," explained Dr. Robin Ashinoff, medical director of Dermatologic, Mohs and Laser Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey. "On the one hand, the skin is the most common organ to be affected by cancer and, in principle, it ought to be preventable because we know the carcinogen which causes it, the sun."

Still, rates of skin cancer remain high.

"That's a terrible state of affairs in 2007," Fisher said. "We really want to understand the impact of ultraviolet radiation on the skin and what is the molecular cascade that is occurring downstream."

Six months ago, Fisher and his team published a paper documenting the fact that keratinocytes -- cells closer to the surface of the skin -- react to sun exposure. Previously, it had been thought that pigment-producing melanocytes played this role.

Once keratinocytes are exposed to rays from the sun, they produce melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH), a growth factor which binds to the pigment cells (melanocytes) and stimulates them to produce pigment.