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Can Skin Cancer Melanoma be Treated by Breast Cancer Drugs Now?

Melanoma is a deadly type of skin cancer. It is mostly caused by the ultra violet rays present in the sun’s rays. These harmful rays are intense enough to cause changes in the structure of our body’s building blocks – the cells. This type of skin cancer is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States. But researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) have found that a drug used to treat breast cancer has the potential for curbing melanoma. This article tries to gain further insight.
Gene Mutation

Knowledge Gained from the Research:

  • The research study was conducted by Dr. Yardena Samuels and his team. Dr. Samuels is a scientist in the Cancer Genetics Branch of the NHGRI’s Division of Intramural Research.
  • The study wanted to know the role of “the PTK gene” and its mutation in spreading melanoma.
  • They found that one of the mutated PTK genes, “the ERBB4″, is mostly present in patients suffering melanoma.
  • This mutant gene ERBB4 was further studied in the laboratory.
  • It was found that the growth of the cells containing this gene was slowed down when these cells were exposed to the drug Lapatinib.
  • Lapatinib is a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2007 for breast cancer patients.
  • Their work was published in the September 2009 issue of Nature Genetics.

Basics required to understanding the research findings:

Mutation in cells: The basic building blocks of life are the cells. These cells contain the fundamental instructions or codes called genes which carry out the functions of the whole body. The genes are made up of DNA molecules. Cell division is a normal process of existence in nature. A single cell (technically called parent cell) splits into two new cells (daughter cells) containing an exact copy of the genes. During the process of copying the genes from parent cell to daughter cells, there can be a scope of codes not getting completely copied. This leads to changes in the genes of the cell and its functions. This is technically called the process of mutation. There are several external factors like sun’s rays, pollution etc which cause mutation in cells.

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