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Jekyll and Hyde immune cells that help skin cancer survive

Like most cancers, skin cancer is more common with increasing age, but malignant melanoma (the most dangerous type of skin cancer) rates are disproportionately high in younger people. More than one third of all cases of occur in people under 55.

So what are Worldwide Cancer Research doing to try and stop it claiming the 55,500 lives that are estimated to have been taken by the disease each year?

One of the latest grants funded by Worldwide Cancer Research which will be underway shortly is Dr Adam Hurlstone at the University of Manchester in England.  He is investigating the role played by the immune system in aiding, rather than killing, cancer cells.

“Macrophages are a multi-tasking type of immune cell” he tells us, “they kill infectious bugs, help heal wounds, and we know they can kill cancer cells when they are working normally.  But here’s the curious thing; in some cancers, instead of killing cancer cells they cause inflammation around the tumour that actually helps the tumour grow in a Jekyll and Hyde typed scenario.  We want to investigate how macrophages orchestrate inflammation in melanoma to aid the tumour and see if we can re-ignite their tumour killing ability instead”

The beautiful skin cancer image above is a microscope image produced by Helen Young who works in Dr Hurlstone’s lab and is funded by the new Worldwide Cancer Research grant and very excited to be able to continue her work for a further three years.  She described the photograph “The image shows human melanoma cells in green green which have been mixed with macrophages, stained blue, that we treated to activate their cancer-killing abilities.  The red colour is a marker of dead melanoma cells which are being eaten by the blue macrophage - this is why you can see green and red inside the blue macrophages.” This is proof that the principle works in cells in a lab, but now the task is to see if it works in actual tumours using zebrafish.

Discover more about our 11 active skin cancer projects on our website here or read our latest blog.