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Researchers shine light on how some melanoma tumors evade drug treatment
Date:11/24/2010

The past year has brought to light both the promise and the frustration of developing new drugs to treat melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Early clinical tests of a candidate drug aimed at a crucial cancer-causing gene revealed impressive results in patients whose cancers resisted all currently available treatments. Unfortunately, those effects proved short-lived, as the tumors invariably returned a few months later, able to withstand the same drug to which they first succumbed. Adding to the disappointment, the reasons behind these relapses were unclear.

Now, a research team led by scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT has unearthed one of the key players behind such drug resistance. Published in the November 25 issue of the journal Nature, the researchers pinpoint a novel cancer gene, called COT (also known as MAP3K8), and uncover the signals it uses to drive melanoma. The research underscores the gene as a new potential drug target, and also lays the foundation for a generalized approach to identify the molecular underpinnings of drug resistance in many forms of cancer.

"In melanoma as well as several other cancers, there is a critical need to understand resistance mechanisms, which will enable us to be smarter up front in designing drugs that can yield more lasting clinical responses," said senior author Levi Garraway, a medical oncologist and assistant professor at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School, and a senior associate member of the Broad Institute. "Our work provides an unbiased method for approaching this problem not only for melanoma, but for any tumor type."

More than half of all melanoma tumors carry changes (called "mutations") in a critical gene called B-RAF. These changes not only alter the cells' genetic makeup, but also render them dependent on certain growth signals. Recent tests of drugs that selectively exploit this dependency, known as R
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Contact: Nicole Davis
ndavis@broadinstitute.org
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Source:Eurekalert

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