Fishing For New Leads In A Rare Melanoma

Source: Scienmag, December 2018

Zebrafish are an emerging power tool in cancer research. They can be engineered to light up when certain genes turn on — capturing the moment when a cancer is initiated. Because they breed so quickly, they lend themselves to rapid, large-scale chemical screening studies, so can help identify tumor promoters and suppressors. Now, as a new study in Science demonstrates, zebrafish can also help scientists dissect the intricate molecular pathways that underlie many cancers, and could help guide treatment strategies.

Collaborators at Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) focused on mucosal melanomas — rare tumors found not on the skin, but in the linings of the respiratory tract, mouth, GI tract and genitourinary tract. Mucosal melanomas tend to come to light only when very advanced. Their biology is poorly understood, and they tend to lack the genetic mutations associated with skin melanomas. Thus, few patients benefit from targeted therapies. The five-year survival rate is only 33 percent.

That’s where Leonard Zon, MD, and his colleagues at Boston Children’s thought they could help. Zon’s lab had already developed a zebrafish melanoma model that faithfully simulates human melanoma tumors and is easy to manipulate genetically. Could it shed new light on mucosal melanomas?

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