Israeli Scientists Find Way That Could Prevent Melanoma Cells from ‘Hijacking’ Their Way Into Brain

Melanoma is the deadliest kind of skin cancer. If diagnosed and treated by surgery, it is almost always curable – but if not, the malignancy can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body where it becomes difficult to treat and is often fatal.

By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
The metastatic stage has a 10-year survival rate of less than 10% and a life expectancy of just two to seven months, depending on the number of organs to which the cancer has spread. This type of skin cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones and brain. In most cases, melanoma is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. It damages the DNA of the skin cells, and then they start to grow out of control.

But now, researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have published in the journal Cell Reports that tumor cells “hijack” their way to the brain through an inflammatory factor secreted by brain cells. Following the discovery, the researchers were able to develop a method for neutralizing the mechanism, which may in the future block the pathway and prevent brain metastasis in melanoma patients. The accomplishment was performed in lab mice and found to work in tumor cells surgically removed from human brains.

“The prognosis of patients with brain metastases is very grim,” said lead author Prof. Neta Erez of the pathology department at the university’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. The research was conducted by TAU graduate students Dr. Hila Doron and Malak Amer, in collaboration with Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, also of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

“Patients used to die from metastases in other places before brain metastases were clinically evident. Treatments have improved and patients are living longer, so the incidence of diagnosed brain metastases is increasing. Understanding how and why brain metastasis occurs is an urgent challenge facing cancer researchers today,” said Erez. “The new research focuses on melanoma brain metastasis because melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer due to its high rate of metastasis, frequently to the brain.”