THURSDAY, Feb. 7, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- An anti-cancer protein that's naturally produced and secreted by the body can make the difference between a common mole and deadly melanoma skin cancer, a new study says.
If this IGFBP7 protein can be produced and delivered to tumors, it may prove effective as a targeted treatment for metastatic melanoma, which is currently untreatable. It may also prove useful in treating other cancers with mutations in the BRAF oncogene, said Michael Green, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Mutations that cause permanent activation of BRAF occur in as many as 70 percent of melanoma cases. These mutations, also found in some colorectal, ovarian and lung cancers, are associated with cell proliferation and tumor growth.
But up to 82 percent of benign moles also contain BRAF-activating mutations. Green and his colleagues investigated the differences between benign moles and melanoma in mice and zeroed in on the IGFBP7 protein.
"This is a natural mechanism by which cells try to prevent cancer. The secretion of this protein gets lost in the formation of cancer. But, because it is secreted, it might also be converted to a therapeutic," Green said in a prepared statement.
Last year, melanoma killed more than 8,000 people in the United States.
The study findings were published in the Feb. 8 issue of the journal Cell.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about melanoma.