Dr. Carmit Levy of Tel Aviv University in Israel led the research. Dr. Carmit Levy of Tel Aviv University in Israel led the research. Dr. Carmit Levy of Tel Aviv University in Israel led the research. (Photo: YouTube)

After skin cancer breakthrough, science is one step closer to a cure

Researchers discovered the mechanism that allows melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, to spread.

How does skin cancer spread? According to researchers who've been studying the deadly disease for decades, knowing that piece of information can be the difference between life and death for its thousands of sufferers.

Now, a discovery by researchers in Israel and Germany has laid the groundwork for more effective treatment for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer and one that kills upwards of 10,000 Americans per year.

Dr. Carmit Levy, lead researcher of the study and a professor at Tel Aviv University's medical school in Israel, said there might soon be a way to "stop the disease altogether."

"The threat of melanoma is not in the initial tumor that appears on the skin, but rather in its metastasis – in the tumor cells sent off to colonize in vital organs like the brain, lungs, liver and bones," Levy, who earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University, said. "We have discovered how the cancer spreads to distant organs and found ways to stop the process before the metastatic stage."

Levy explains further in this video:

There is currently no singular drug to treat melanoma, she explained. Traditional treatment involves removing the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue. But as so many cancer sufferers know, the story doesn't always end there.

Melanoma's ability to metastasize, or spread, has been the crux of Levy and her colleagues' research. Even in the earliest stages of cancer, the tumor sends out "tiny vesicles containing molecules of microRNA," Levy continued. The key in stopping the spread of the cancer lies in blocking those vesicles.

"We looked at samples of early melanoma, before the invasive stage," she said. "To our surprise we found changes in the morphology of the dermis – the inner layer of the skin – that had never before been reported. Our next task was to find out what these changes were, and how they related to melanoma."

The researchers looked for substances that could actually work to block the process. And they found two: one that inhibits the delivery of the vesicles from the tumor out to the dermis (the layer of skin just below the epidermis); and the other that prevents changes to the dermis even after the vesicles arrive. It's those two substances, they said, that could become successful drug treatments.

"Our study is an important step on the road to a full remedy for the deadliest skin cancer," said Levy. "We hope that our findings will help turn melanoma into a nonthreatening, easily curable disease."

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