Saturday, June 4, 2016

Science Saturday: Skin cancer & Wound Healing

This week's Science Saturday is filled to the brim with news on skin cancer, wound healing, and weird discoveries I still don't understand.

I feel like I'm in an episode of the Scary Door.

Let's jump into the wacky.

As medicine has evolved, it has been moving toward personalization. That is, personalizing medicines specifically for the individual and the disease. One such disease is melanoma. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, killing 10,130 Americans every year. The new drug HA15 has been extremely effective in treating patients diagnosed with melanoma- researchers report that all melanomas exposed to the drug died while healthy cells were unaffected. “HA15 induces stress in the endoplasmic reticulum, bringing about the death of the melanoma cells through apoptosis and autophagy.” HA15 has also been effective on cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, pancreas, and even gliomas and chronic myeloid leukaemias. Good news for science, bad news for cancer.

Graphical abstract- read more here
Moving from melanoma to another skin cancer- merkel cell carcinoma [MCC], which is one of the most aggressive skin cancers and metastasizes rapidly. MCC develops in the merkel cells and is caused by the uncontrollable growth of these cells. Merkel cells are cells found deep within the epidermis and are nerves associated with light touch and discrimination of shapes and textures. Merkel cell carcinoma has, “a mortality rate of 33 percent, exceeding that of melanoma, and a 45 percent five-year survival rate.” Thus understanding the mechanisms behind this cancer are incredibly important. And researchers at the University of Pennsylvania think they’ve found the origin of merkel cell carcinoma: merkel cell polyomavirus, an abundantly found virus in healthy human skin. But don’t freak out just yet- merkel cell carcinoma is incredibly rare and is most often associated with individuals who are over the age of 65, have a history of extensive sun exposure, have chronic immunosuppression (like post organ transplant or in HIV positive individuals), and have fair skin. The researchers also identify potential therapeutic agents against the virus to hopefully stop MCC as well.

Merkel cells are found at the very bottom of the epidermis
I don’t have any fancy summary for this one. So I’m just going to be blunt- turns out melanocytes (pigment producing cells in our skin) have olfactory (scent) receptors. My mind is so blown by this, I’m still coming to grips with it. “The scent researcher from Bochum expects the newly detected receptor to have other potential applications: ‘With its help, we might be able to treat pigmentation disorders of the skin, and they might also be used in tanning products,’ says Hatt.”

As we age, a multitude of things happen to our skin: collagen decreases, environmental assaults take their toll, and wound healing time lengthens. Understanding the mechanisms behind why these events occur as we age is crucial in developing products and medicines to slow down aging. When it comes to slowed wound healing, researchers from the University of Michigan may have uncovered one key aspect- less sweat. “In young people, they discovered sweat glands contributed more cells to wound closure than in aged adults. The cells in aged skin weren't as cohesive, either. Fewer cells participating, spaced further apart, means a delay in wound closure and a thinner repaired epidermis in aged versus young skin.” The implications of this study are huge and the research team behind these findings plan to continue this research.

Speaking of wound healing, new research has opened up the possibility that small electrical currents might activate certain immune cells to jumpstart or speed wound healing. These findings are in their infancy; however, they introduce the possibility for new treatment therapies for those with wound healing issues. And given how many skin care treatments include purposeful wound creation (microneedling, deep acid peels, laser therapies, and so on), I’d be very interested to see if electrical therapies are introduced to this arena to improve treatment outcomes.

[There are no cool pictures for this one... I'M SO SORRY]

I hope you enjoyed this week's Science Saturday. If you have any questions, observations, or stories you saw this week that I didn't mention, leave them below in the doobly doo and we can chat about it!