Immune protein promotes skin cancer

February 16, 2011

An unexpected immune protein exacerbates cancer due to sun exposure, and a drug designed to block the protein might halt tumor growth, a recently published study suggests.

Washington - An unexpected immune protein exacerbates cancer due to sun exposure, and a drug designed to block the protein might halt tumor growth, a recently published study suggests.

Working with mice, a team at George Washington University Medical Center found that UV-B rays cause macrophages to migrate higher in the skin and release an immune protein, interferon-gamma, Newswise reports.

But instead of providing protection as most interferon proteins do, interferon-gamma allowed tumors to grow by preventing natural immune response in the mice.

In previous studies, investigators had confirmed that UV-B radiation, as opposed to UV-A, triggered melanoma. But in the current study, according to Newswise.com, researchers didn’t expect the interferon-gamma to be protecting the tumor instead of killing cancerous cells.

Investigators conclude that a drug that could intercept interferon-gamma, or its effects, might be used to treat melanoma patients. Researchers note that 70 percent of cancerous cells from melanoma patients contain high levels of the interferon-gamma protein.

The study appears in the Jan. 27 issue of the journal Nature.