Genes interact to fight skin cancer

December 1, 2009

London - Researchers from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute say they have found how two genes from the same “family” can interact to stop cancer, reports News-medical.net.

London - Researchers from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute say they have found how two genes from the same "family" can interact to stop cancer, reports News-medical.net.

The findings, published in the journal Molecular Cell, show that the BRAF gene, which is linked to about 70 percent of melanomas and 7 percent of all cancers, is controlled by a similar gene called CRAF, also linked to the disease.

The discovery occurred during the study of a drug that was an early version of a targeted treatment for malignant melanoma. Despite its early promise in laboratory studies, the drug - which targets CRAF and, to a lesser degree, BRAF - was ineffective in patients with melanoma.

By showing that CRAF can interact with and prevent the activation of BRAF in melanoma cell lines, the researchers think they have explained the disappointing results of the early clinical trial and suggest that future treatments should selectively target the BRAF protein - leaving the CRAF gene to help fight cancer.

News-medical.net quotes lead author David Tuveson, M.D., head of the experimental medicine laboratory at the Cambridge Research Institute, as saying, "Previous studies on CRAF suggested it can cause cancerous changes to develop, so drugs were developed to tackle this. To our surprise, we can now see that CRAF actually helps control cancer in some situations, such as when the BRAF gene is mutated in melanoma.

"Strangely, in this case, two 'wrongs' make a 'right.' The first generation of BRAF inhibitors targeted both RAF genes, but the new generation, which is now being developed, should switch off BRAF and leave CRAF alone. If our hypothesis is correct, these drugs will have more success in controlling the cancer."

The authors say further investigation is needed to confirm their hypothesis on the BRAF/CRAF genetic interaction. They add that an increased understanding of the process will help to improve the next generation of treatments and enable them to work more effectively.