New scientific evidence that may shed light on why men are more likely than women to develop aggressive forms of skin cancer has been published in Carcinogenesis. The research carried out by scientists in UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular & Biomedical Research shows that a gene found only in men is altered by a chemical process, which is in turn linked to aggressive forms of melanoma.
Dr William Gallagher, UCD School of Biomolecular & Biomedical Science and UCD Conway Institute has led the work of a team of researchers who are trying to identify potential biological markers that could flag aggressive forms of melanoma. Using the latest gene chip technology, their work has focused on 66 genes that undergo changes as a melanoma moves from a non-aggressive to an aggressive state. Dr Gallagher and his team have discovered that a common feature among a significant percentage of these genes is that they have been chemically altered by a process called DNA methylation.
One of these genes turned off by this process, TSPY, is located only on the male Y chromosome and, for the first time, may provide a molecular clue to the commonly held belief that men are not only more likely to develop melanoma but that it tends to be more aggressive.
The Carcinogenesis paper also describes how this group of scientists have slowed tumour growth by treating skin cancer cells with an agent called DAC (2'-deoxy-5-azacytidine), which turned back on the TSPY gene and others in the group of 66 being studied. Commenting on the finding, Dr Gallagher said, “DAC is now being evaluated in a wide variety of clinical trials worldwide, with the TSPY gene perhaps being a useful biomarker of treatment for patients receiving this candidate drug”.
Dr Gallagher has been working closely on this project with an expert in DNA methylation, Spanish scientist Dr Manel Esteller, Director of the Epigenetics Laboratory at the Spanish National Cancer Center (CNIO).