2006, UC researchers were given $1 million from the National
to develop a topical treatment that would not only make skin tan but would also
work to both block harmful ultraviolet rays (UV) and repair damage caused by
sun exposure, which could lead to skin cancer.
that research continues and initial results have led to a pending patent for a
product that could one day be sold to consumers, possibly reducing the
incidence of skin cancer while giving that desired bronze glow that has been
trending in our society for decades.
Abdel-Malek, PhD, a member of the Cincinnati Cancer Center, a professor in the
department of dermatology and a member of the UC Cancer Institute, leads this
research which since its initiation has also gained institutional funding from
a Dean’s Discovery Award, a UC Technology Accelerator Award and most recently
from a pilot project from the Center for Environmental Genetics.
is the deadliest forms of skin cancer if not detected early and is responsible
for 80 to 85 percent of skin cancer fatalities,” Abdel-Malek says. "This truly
translational research is working at the cellular level to protect and repair
the skin, and to increase pigmentation without sun exposure, which is the
desired outcome that reduces UV-induced damage in the first place.”
project is multidisciplinary in nature. Initial research involved the chemical
modification of a hormone called alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone
(alpha-MSH) which was accomplished in collaboration with James Knittel, PhD, a
former faculty member at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy. Known to
increase skin pigmentation, alpha-MSH has also been found to repair
precancerous damage that UV rays cause to skin cell DNA, the genetic material
within cells, a major discovery in Abdel-Malek’s laboratory.
showed that alpha-MSH repairs DNA damage caused by excessive sun exposure, reversing
the cancer-causing effects of UV radiation,” says Abdel-Malek.
make it easier for the hormone to penetrate the fatty lipid layer of the skin, researchers
reduced alpha-MSH from its original peptide chain of 13 amino acids to a chain
of only four amino acids and then three to make it more effective at
penetrating the skin to target the melanocytes.
says colleagues from the Winkle College of Pharmacy, including Kevin Li, PhD,
and from the UC Department of Cancer Biology, including Ken Greis, PhD, then
studied the synthesized peptides on fresh human cadaver skin to determine
whether, if applied as a topical cream, they could be absorbed through the skin
and delivered to the melanocytes.
results have been promising,” she continues, adding that absorption was
possible and that both repair and increased pigmentation were observed in
cultured human skin substitutes and intact human skin.
cells tend to be resistant, and treatment is not often effective, as many
reemerge more aggressively. Prevention is so important, and the development of
a topical cream that could prevent skin cancer by increasing skin pigmentation
and repairing DNA damage caused by UV exposure could tremendously reduce the incidence
of melanoma and all forms of sun-induced skin cancer.”
says she’s hoping to see this technology tested in clinical trials in the next
two to three years.
would especially benefit people with known high risk for skin cancer in
general, especially those with fair skin and red hair, and might ultimately
reduce the incidence of melanoma and prevent its recurrence in these highly