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Molecular ‘distress beacon’ identified

Worldwide Cancer Research funded scientist Dr Cathy Tournier has located a ‘distress beacon’ damaged skin cells use to attract immune cells– which can lead to cancer.

Dr Tournier and her team at the University of Manchester have shown in mice that damaged skin cells use the ERK5 molecule to draw in immune cells in times of trouble. “We think it’s quite clear,” says Dr Tournier, “our work shows the skin cells are using ERK5 to call to the immune cells."

If this beacon could be switched off or blocked, it could represent a potentially new way to treat cancer.

“There’s a long way to go, but we think that anti-ERK5 therapy combined with chemotherapy might turn out to be an effective way to hit not just skin cancer, but maybe many different types of cancer,” said Dr Tournier.

Long-term infection and inflammation are thought to be major risk factors for various types of cancer. Scientists think that in these conditions, immune cells help damaged cells survive and keep dividing- making way for cancer to develop. But it’s not well understood how and why the immune cells move into help in the first place. This is why Dr Tournier’s work is so important.

Dr Helen Rippon our Head of Research said: “This research was done in mice so we don’t yet know what these findings mean for humans. But it’s a great step forward, and early-stage research like this is vital if we are going to continue making the huge advances in cancer survival we’ve already seen over the last few decades.”

The original paper can be found here.