French and British researchers close to understanding skin cancer

April 1, 2004

Brussels, 31 Mar 2004

A team of British and French scientists from the Institut Curie in Paris and the London Institute of Cancer Research has found that 90 per cent of malignant melanoma cells produce abnormally high levels of a protein called BRN-2. They also found that this protein is necessary for melanoma cells to continue dividing.

This discovery means that oncologists and researchers will find it easier to distinguish between melanomas and other types of skin discoloration, such as moles and sunspots.

The team is 'beginning to investigate the important implications of BRN-2 for diagnosis and treatment of malignant melanoma,' said Colin Goding, who is leading the research.

Every year, between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers are reported globally, and it is sun-seeking activities that are usually blamed for the increase in this type of cancer. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), regular exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and sunburn during childhood set the stage for high rates of melanoma later on in life.

It is believed that the thinning of the ozone layer, which offers protection against UV radiation, exacerbates the problem.

People with lighter skin colouring tend to be more likely to develop melanoma, which accounts for a small percentage of all skin cancer cases but causes most skin cancer-related deaths. On the positive side, however, melanoma is often curable if detected and treated in its early stages.

In the European Union, cancer affects one in three individuals before their 75th birthday, and is responsible for one in every four deaths. At a meeting which took place in 2001 to discuss future cancer research directions in Europe, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin warned that 'The whole subject of cancer research requires a European approach. [A] large, cooperative effort is needed to ensure that every European citizen will rapidly profit from the revolution of knowledge in cancer management.'

Since then, various European efforts have been launched to improve cancer surveillance, to set up international research cooperation in this area, and to ensure that discoveries are transferred quickly into new treatments. The EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) has also set aside over 1.15 billion euro for life science research aimed at combating major diseases such as cancer.

On 29 March, a European awareness campaign, the 'Train Against Cancer', was officially launched in Brussels. The train will tour Europe beginning with major cities in France and Germany.

At a national level, the UK charity Cancer Research UK has warned that cases of malignant melanoma have increased by 24 per cent over the last five years as more young people go on holidays abroad in search of a suntan.

Launching the campaign SunSmart on 31 March, in cooperation with the UK Department of Health, a spokesperson warned that in 1995 there were 5,626 new cases of melanoma in Britain but by 2000 this figure had risen to 6,967. Sunburn in childhood can double the risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer in later life, is the message that SunSmart is trying to pass on to British youth.

Melanie Johnson, the UK Minister for Public Health, announced a 400,000 GBP grant for the programme (600,149 euro) over the next three years.

//CPA For further information on the FP6 thematic priority 'life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health', please visit: tm

For further information on the Train Against Cancer initiative, please visit:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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