ICRF Research Explores Development of UV-Exposed Skin Cancer
To spotlight Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, ICRF Project Grant recipient Professor Ittai Ben-Porath of the Hebrew University discusses his research on skin lesions in the epidermis and how to prevent the formation of cancer.
As it is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, can you please tell us about your research relating to skin cancers caused by UV radiation?
Exposure to sunlight is responsible for virtually all skin cancers. The UV-B component of light generates mutations in our genes that can trigger cancer. UV-B exposure can be thought of as the “cigarettes of the skin,” and when we expose our skin, unprotected, to too much sunlight, we put our health at risk. With all this information we have, it is extremely alarming that many people still frequent tanning salons.
There are two main types of skin cancers. Melanoma occurs when mutations develop inside cells called melanocytes. While not very prevalent, it is extremely deadly. Epidermal cancers, which we are currently studying, start with the epidermal cells, which form the skin’s layers. These tumors are among the most common in humans. While many are not malignant, about one in 25 will become deadly. Since so many people suffer from these skin lesions—squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas– their management poses an immense health burden to the public and to patients. Our study aims to reduce the rate of early tumor formation in the skin, and the ability of early skin lesions to progress to malignancy. We found evidence that UV light, when damaging epidermal cells, causes them to enter a state called senescence. In this phase, the damaged cells can send signals to neighboring cells which stimulate their growth and multiplication, and drive the formation of early cancer. We are researching how this process occurs in UV exposed skin, and whether the senescent state can be blocked to reduce its damage.
How do you hope your study will impact skin cancer?
If senescence of epidermal cells in the skin occurs in response to UV exposure, driving cancer formation, we may apply different drugs or tools to prevent this process. We hope to then be able to block the growth of early skin lesions and prevent them from becoming malignant.
How has ICRF been important in your work?
ICRF has been instrumental to my research since the beginning of my independent career. I have been fortunate to receive support from ICRF for several projects impacting more than one cancer type. I am particularly excited about the current research project and believe it has real potential to impact lives. I am grateful that ICRF has decided to support my study.