CTSA Program Researchers Shed Light on Improved Melanoma Treatment

Thomas Graeber, Ph.D.

Thomas Graeber, Ph.D., lead researcher for the team at University of California, Los Angeles. (University of California, Los Angeles Photo)

Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer. The disease starts in melanocytes, the cells of the body that make skin pigment. As this cancer progresses, some melanoma cells can revert back to an earlier stage of development. This process, called de-differentiation, can make the cells more resistant to existing treatments.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, an NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program hub, wondered whether melanoma cells that de-differentiate might be vulnerable to other approaches to treatment. The team began by looking at the characteristics of 53 different melanomas. The cancer cells fell into four groups based on their stages of differentiation.

The researchers found that two kinds of cancer treatment, targeted therapy and immunotherapy, actually encouraged melanoma cells to de-differentiate and become resistant to the treatment. And as the team had hoped, de-differentiated cells appear to be vulnerable to a new line of attack, with drugs known as ferroptosis inducers.

Using these findings, doctors might be able to fight some types of melanoma with a combination of existing and ferroptosis-based treatments. Modern treatments lead to cell de-differentiation in cancers other than melanoma, so this work could potentially help find better treatments for other cancers as well. Learn more about this advance.

Posted August 2018