Washington: Scientists claim to have identified a protein which is linked to melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
   
A team at the University of North Carolina has found that the protein, known as P-Rex1, is key to the movement of cells called melanoblasts. When these cells experience uncontrolled growth, melanoma develops.

The scientists found that mice lacking the P-Rex1 protein are resistant to melanoma metastases.

When they tested human melanoma cells and tumour tissue for the protein, P-Rex1 was elevated in the majority of cases -- a clue that the protein plays an important role in the cancer's spread.
   
"We know that mutations in a gene called BRAF are important for the development of melanoma and several years ago we published a collaborative paper listing 82 proteins
that seem to be affected by this genetic pathway. From that list, we focused on P-Rex1," said team member Channing Der.

A drug approved this summer, vemurafenib, is the first treatment directed at the BRAF mutation. Clinical trials found that the treatment offers a significant survival benefit.
   
"We think that vemurafenib may work, in part, by blocking the up-regulation of P-Rex1," Der said.
   
Added Nancy Thomas, a team member: "Pinpointing that P-Rex1 plays a key role in metastasis gives us a better understanding of how vemurafenib may work and a target for developing new treatments."
   
The findings have been published in the latest edition of the 'Nature Communications' journal.

(Agencies)