Research and Technology

07.11.19

Cancer Research discovers Vitamin D influences melanoma cells

Cancer Research scientists have discovered Vitamin D influences the behaviour of melanoma cells in the lab by making them less aggressive.

The research has come from the University of Leeds who found that vitamin D influences the behaviour of a signalling pathway within melanoma cells, which slowed down their growth and stopped them spreading to the lungs in mice.

Despite this research being in its early stages, the findings could ultimately lead to new ways to treat melanoma.

There are around 16,000 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year, and survival has doubled in the UK in the past 40 years. In the UK each year around 300 people get diagnosed with melanoma at its latest stage, which can be problematic as it’s aggressive and difficult to treat at this stage. Around 55% of people with latest stage melanoma survive their disease for 1 year or more compared to nearly 100% of those diagnosed at the earliest stage.

The researchers looked at the activity of the gene that makes vitamin D receptor in 703 human melanoma tumours, and 353 human melanoma tumours that had spread from the initial site. The activity of the VDR gene was cross-referenced with other patient characteristics, such as the thickness of their tumour and how fast their tumour grew. They also wanted to see if the amounts of VDR in human melanoma cells were associated with genetic changes that happen when tumours become more aggressive. They then used mice to check whether VDR levels changed the cancer’s ability to spread.

The researchers found that human tumours with low levels of the VDR gene grew faster, and had a lower activity of genes that control pathways that help the immune system fight cancer cells.

Professor Julia Newton-Bishop from the University of Leeds said: “After years of research, we finally know how vitamin D works with VDR to influence the behaviour of melanoma cells by reducing activity of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway. This new puzzle piece will help us better understand how melanoma grows and spreads, and hopefully find new targets to control it.

“But what’s really intriguing, is that we can now see vitamin D might help to immune system fight cancer. We know when the Wnt/β-catenin pathway is active in melanoma, it can dampen down the immune response causing fewer immune cells to reach the inside of the tumour, where they could potentially fight the cancer better.

"Although vitamin D on its own won't treat cancer, we could take insights from the way it works to boost the effects of immunotherapy, which uses the immune system to find and attack cancer cells."

 

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