Researchers have discovered a new ultraviolet-resistant gene, dubbed the “sunscreen gene”, a paper published in the Molecular Cell paper reveals. Although more studies are needed, the discovery could help towards developing new skin cancer treatment and medication, experts say.
The gene was identified in a study conducted on 340 melanoma patients. According to lead study author Chengyu Liang, understanding how the “sunscreen gene” works to repair cells damaged by UV exposure was key to the process. The findings could help scientists create drugs that replicate that and assist the body in the process of reverting the effects of UV damage.
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the country. Moreover, reportedly, the overwhelming majority of skin cancer cases are caused by exposure to UV radiation. While sun exposure is becoming riskier due to the thinning of the ozone layer, frequent use of tanning beds is also seen as a possible cause.
Excessive tanning and overall exposure to UV damages the skin and can lead to the development of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Every year, the body estimates, approximately 10,000 people die of the disease in the US every year. Light skinned people are more exposed to UV radiations, as are those with a weak immune system, such as those undergoing HIV treatments.
As revealed by Liang, some people have a mutated or low levels of the ultraviolet gene. In their case, repeated exposure to the sun may increase the risk of developing melanoma or other types of skin cancer. The research established a correlation between the two but did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship between UV exposure and low levels of the newly-discovered gene.
Approximately 3.3 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are identified every year in the US, the American Cancer Society reports. Out of those, 76,380 are melanoma cases.
Therefore, any drug that could help cells reverse the mechanism and repair the cells damaged by exposure to UV is bound to have a significant impact on people’s lives. Although further research is needed, medical scientists will work to develop a drug that can trigger the “sunscreen gene”’s repair response.
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