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As one of the more common forms of cancer, melanoma is a skin malignancy that affects melanocytes, the cells responsible for our pigmentation. The primary cause is overexposure to ultraviolet light, either from direct sunlight or other sources, such as tanning beds.
In many cases, especially if the symptoms are caught early on, treatment is successful, but some tumors develop a resistance to anticancer drugs, making them particularly dangerous. The abnormal cells can quickly travel to other parts of the body forming malignant tumors.
Because the more difficult to treat cells produce increased levels of an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 1 (ALDH1), researchers from MRC Human Genetics Unit and Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre were looking for something that could target that specific molecule. Surprisingly enough, they found a suitable candidate in Nifuroxazide, an oral antibiotic designed to help against colitis and diarrhea.
In their tests, the team implanted human melanoma sample into mice and then administered Nifuroxazide. The drug became activated in the presence of the ALDH1 enzyme, causing toxicity to those cells, but leaving surrounding tissue unaffected.
Now investigators hope that the procedure could help bolster existing melanoma treatments, called BRAF and MEK inhibitors. Tumors resistant to these courses also generate high levels of ALDH1.
While this has the potential of becoming an incredible discovery, scientists are still reserved in their optimism. Professor Elizabeth Patton, team leader and Personal Chair of Chemical Genetics insisted that “there won’t be one magic bullet for targeting melanoma – the variations that exist within the cancers mean there will need to be combination therapies. When people are given BRAF or MEK drugs to treat melanoma it can result in the tumours having more cells with high levels of ALDH, so we think that’s a really important target. We’ve shown this antibiotic that’s used mostly to target intestinal bacteria can also target and kills cancer cells high in the enzyme ALDH1”.[/et_p[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]