In what is being hailed as a “groundbreaking discovery,” Boston researchers have identified a molecule activated by the body’s immune system that blocks the growth of melanoma skin cancer – a finding they predict will reshape standard treatment for the sometimes-fatal disease.
Brigham and Women's Hospital investigators found that high levels of the substance, known as interleukin-9, effectively stop the development and growth of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The findings published online in the journal Nature Medicine, are based on researchers’ observations that mice genetically predisposed to have high amounts of the substance had significant resistance to tumor growth.
"These were unexpected results, which led us to examine a possible contribution of interleukin-9 to cancer growth suppression." said researcher Rahul Purwar.SPECIAL: This Small Group of Doctors are Quietly Curing Cancer — Read More.
To test whether the molecule was, indeed, responsible for the lower cancer risk, researchers treated mice that had melanoma with interleukin-9 and found they, too, had a profound resistance to the cancer’s growth.
Since mice and humans share similar traits related to melanoma and interleukin-9, the investigators said the new findings could pave the way for new therapies that effectively boost the body’s own immune defenses to root out cancer.
"Immunotherapy of cancer is coming of age, and there have been exciting recent results in patients with melanoma treated with drugs that stimulate the immune system," said researcher Dr. Thomas S. Kupper. "We hope that our results will also translate to the treatment of melanoma patients, but much work still needs to be done."
The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2012, more than 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States. Nearly 9,200 people will die from the disease.
This study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health and The Skin Cancer Foundation.