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Latest Research Throws Light On How Common Moles Turn Cancerous

Very often, there is lot of confusion between moles and melanomas as both are considered as skin cancers. That is not correct even though both have the same origin known as melanocytes. That is where the similarity ends as while moles are mostly considered to be harmless, melanomas are cancerous and can turn serious if not treated at the correct time. A latest study done by Robert Judson-Torres, PhD, Huntsman Cancer Institute researcher, takes a closer look into how common moles and melanomas are formed and why moles turn cancerous.

Melanocytes are known as the cells, which give color to the skin to protect it from the harsh sun's rays. Changes brought about to the DNA sequences of melanocytes known as BRAF gene mutations are found in more than 75 percent of the moles. These same changes are known to exist in 50 percent of melanomas and is the main reason behind cancer of colon and lung. Researchers knew that when melanocytes only have the BRAFV600E mutation the cell stops its division process, thus developing a mole. When melanocytes have other mutations with BRAFV600E, they begin dividing in large numbers thus turning cancerous. This process is known as "oncogene-induced senescence."

With help from collaborators across HCI and the University of California San Francisco, the study team took samples of moles and melanomas of patients and made use of transcriptomic profiling and digital holographic cytometry. While the first lets researchers know the molecular differences between moles and melanomas, the second process helps researchers keep track of the changes in human cells.
Commenting on the findings, Judson-Torres said, "We discovered a new molecular mechanism that explains how moles form, how melanomas form."

As per the findings of the study, melanocytes that turn into melanoma do not require additional mutations but are impacted by environmental signaling, when cells receive signals from the environment in the skin around them. Melanocytes bring out genes in different environments, either directing them to divide uncontrollably or stop dividing altogether.

Judson-Torres said, "Origins of melanoma being dependent on environmental signals gives a new outlook in prevention and treatment. It also plays a role in trying to combat melanoma by preventing and targeting genetic mutations. We might also be able to combat melanoma by changing the environment."

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