Although rare, melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer and is generally incurable in later stages, due to melanoma tumours eventually comprising of distinctive subpopulations of cell types. A new study investigating the origins of melanoma may have determined the reason for this chameleon-like behaviour.
First in genetically engineered mice, and then in human tissue samples, the team observed that melanocyte stem cells within hair follicles could mutate into cancerous melanoma cells. They then travelled up the hair follicle shaft to form a local tumour in the epidermis, before entering a vertical growth phase and invading the dermis.
It was while in the dermis that the cells changed radically, losing their old protein and pigment markers and taking on new protein patterns to disguise themselves as nerve and skin cells. Having determined the origin of the cells, the researchers were able to pinpoint two signalling factors without which they stopped spreading.
Lead researcher Qi Sun stated: “While our findings will require confirmation in further human testing, they argue that melanoma can arise in pigment stem cells originating both in follicles and in skin layers, such that some melanomas have multiple stem cells of origin.”
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Source: News Medical