Researchers Look Into Possibility Of Vaccine Against Skin Cancer

Researchers at the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy have studied about a vaccine stimulating production of a protein, which is important to the skin's antioxidant network and could provide a workable defense against skin cancer.

Professor of pharmaceutical sciences at OSU and leader of the study, Arup Indra, said, "Ultraviolet radiation from the sun leads to oxidative stress, which increases the risk of skin cancers such as melanoma."

Messenger RNA vaccines, like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for COVID-19, which promoted production of the protein, TR1, in skin cells could bring down the risk of UV-induced cancers and other skin problems, he said.

The findings of the research, in which a mouse model was used to probe TR1's role in skin cells' health and stability, were published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and melanoma, the most lethal type of skin cancer, is a type in which malignant cells form in skin cells known as melanocytes. Melanocytes produce the pigment melanin, which decides the skin color.

Most cases of skin cancer, the CDC says, are linked to exposure to UV radiations. People get tanned from exposure to the sun or tanning beds because producing melanin is the body's way of trying to protect the skin from burning.

Commenting on the developments Indra said, "Despite efforts to improve public awareness about the warning signs of melanoma and the dangers of excess exposure to UV radiation, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise. For more than 40 years researchers have looked at dietary antioxidants as a possible source of inexpensive, low-risk agents for cancer prevention, but they have not always performed well in clinical trials and in some cases have actually been harmful. Hence the need to try to intervene with new chemoprevention agents such as an mRNA vaccine."

TR1 is a key component of melanocytes' antioxidant system. Antioxidants offer protection from reactive oxygen species, or ROS, which are on the hunt for electrons from molecules in cells and can damage DNA. Melanocytes are under ROS siege not only from the sun but also because the process of making pigment, melanogenesis, causes ROS to be produced too. By catalyzing the transfer of electrons, antioxidants work like an off switch for what would otherwise be a chain reaction affecting multiple molecules in melanocytes and other cells, thereby preventing oxidation.

Messenger RNA vaccines work by instructing cells to make a particular protein. In the case of the coronavirus vaccines, it's a harmless piece of the virus' spike protein, which triggers an immune response; for the proposed melanoma vaccine, it would be TR1.

Researchers observe that a vaccine for only TR1, with no other antioxidants, might be sufficient, because they noticed increased oxidative stress and DNA damage without TR1 despite the presence of other antioxidant proteins. However, it's possible that some other antioxidants such as glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase could be important as well.

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