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Pine bark substance can help treat skin cancer

skin-cancerA substance that comes from pine bark is a potential source for a new treatment of melanoma, researchers, including those of Indian-origin, have found. Current melanoma drugs targeting single proteins can initially be effective, but resistance develops relatively quickly and the disease recurs. In those instances, resistance usually develops when the cancer cell's circuitry bypasses the protein that the drug acts on, or when the cell uses other pathways to avoid the point on which the drug acts. 'To a cancer cell, resistance is like a traffic problem in its circuitry,' said Gavin Robertson, professor of pharmacology, pathology, dermatology, and surgery and director of the Penn State Hershey Melanoma Center.

'Cancer cells see treatment with a single drug as a road closure and use a detour or other roads to bypass the closure,' he said. Penn State researchers may have solved this problem by identifying a drug that simultaneously creates many road closures. The researchers screened 480 natural compounds and identified leelamine, derived from the bark of pine trees, as a drug that can cause this major traffic jam in the cancer cell's circuitry. Leelamine could be the first of a new unique class of drugs that will simultaneously target several protein pathways, researchers said. (Read: Tattoos may increase skin cancer risk)

The study found that this drug shuts down multiple protein pathways, such as PI3K, MAPK and STAT3, at the same time in melanoma cells. These pathways are involved in the development of up to 70 per cent of melanomas. Protein pathways like these help cancer cells multiply and spread, so shutting them down helps kill the cells. 'The cancer cell is addicted to these pathways. And when they are shut down, the bypass routes cannot be used. The result is the cancer cells die,' Robertson said. Leelamine works by shutting down cholesterol transport and its movement around the cancer cell. (Read: Why you should be wary of skin-lightening products)

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By shutting down cholesterol transport and movement, the exceptionally active survival communication that cancer cells require is shut down. The end result is death of the cancer cell. Since normal cells are not addicted to the same high levels of activity in these pathways, the drug has a negligible effect on them. The researchers demonstrated the results of this unique drug on cells growing in culture dishes and in tumours growing in mice. Leelamine inhibited tumour development in mice with no detectable side effects. Other Penn State scientists who participated in the research are Raghavendra Gowda, research associate; SubbaRao V Madhunapantula, research associate; Omer F Kuzu, graduate student; and Arati Sharma, assistant professor of pharmacology. (Read: 7 chemicals in cosmetics that can damage your skin)

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer originates in the tissues of the skin. There are several types of skin cancer depending on the type of skin cell they arise from. They are broadly divided into two main types non-melanoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma forms in the lowest layer of the epidermis of skin whereas squamous cell carcinoma forms in squamous cells at the surface of the skin. Melanoma originates in skin pigment producing cells called melanocytes.

The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to the ultraviolet radiation from sun. Moles are the most dangerous precipitate factor. Irregular diet, smoking, chronic infection and inflammation, arsenic exposure, etc. can also contribute as risk factors. Inks used in tattoos, especially blue ink, may contain toxic elements like cobalt and aluminium which increase the risk of skin cancer. Indoor tanning beds can significantly increases chances of skin cancer.

A biopsy is the only way to diagnose the condition. The earlier the diagnosis, the better is the chances of survival. Some of the latest methods which help screen or detect skin cancers early are ultra-precision hyper-spectral camera and mobile phone application ClipOCam-Derma. Most forms of non-melanoma skin cancer can be easily treated because they grow slowly. But if not treated, some non-melanoma skin cancers can become large or spread inside the body. A melanoma cancer, if caught early, can be cured with relatively minor surgery. Some of the latest advances in treatment are targeted molecular therapy with drug Dz13,chromatin derived from rattlesnake venom and MEK inhibitors.

Sunscreen can help prevent skin cancer. According to some studies aspirin, silibinin (a milk thistle extract) and a caffeine-exercise combo have been shown to offer protection against skin cancers. (Read: 10 facts about skin cancer you probably didn't know about)

With inputs from PTI

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