Researchers Find Way to ‘Switch Off’ Growth of Aggressive Melanomas

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The deadliest type of skin cancer is melanoma, which is known to resist chemotherapy. Medical Express states that almost 25% of melanoma is “is driven by oncogenic mutations in the NRAS gene,” which means NRAS can be targeted by therapeutic procedures. Unfortunately, for decades, no therapies used to target NRAS have been successful.

In a first, an international team of researchers led by a team of scientists from Boston University found a new activator of NRAS. Moreover, they also developed an inhibitor that will prevent the growth of NRAS mutant melanoma. The findings recently published in the journal Cell provide a new option to treat aggressive skin cancer.

Researchers discovered a regulator of NRAS function called STK19, and through biochemical and cellular experiments, the team found out how the activation takes place. In their study, the researchers wrote that this finding would help develop a new strategy in treating melanoma:

Given the pivotal role of NRAS signaling … and the prominent role of STK19 in NRAS activation, targeting STK19 would represent a potential new therapeutic strategy in melanoma, especially in those with NRAS mutations.

Improving Care for Cancer Patients

After selecting and testing STK19, the team has also created a small molecule that targets STK19, which is called ZT-012-037-1 (1a). Results showed that the molecule was successful in inhibiting both tumor development and mutant NRAS-STK19 which leads to melanoma cell formation. The tests were replicated in mouse models, which ended with prolonging their lives.

Scientists only focused on NRAS, but noted that NRAS phosphorylation is present in two other RAS proteins, which means that targeting STK19 will also be an option in treating “25% of all cancers with RAS mutations,” stated MD, Ph.D. Rutao Cui, the study leader. Rutao Cui, also a professor of pharmacology & experimental therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine, concluded that their goal is to translate their findings into cancer patients:

We hope our findings ultimately will be clinically translated into improved care for cancer patients.