The Sunscreen Gene Could Be the Key to Preventing Skin Cancer

With sunny summer days on the horizon, increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation – the primary cause of skin cancer—means increased risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers for some groups of patients.

With sunny summer days on the horizon, increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation — the primary cause of skin cancer—means increased risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers for some groups of patients.

However, researchers may have alleviated some of that worry by recently identifying a gene called UV radiation resistance-associated gene (UVRAG) that repairs cellular DNA damage caused by UV radiation.

This discovery could potentially pave the road for preventative strategies in skin cancer.

Chengyu Liang, MD, Phd, Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC), and colleagues investigated the actual function of UVRAG by analyzing human and fruit fly melanoma cells.

Each group had either lower levels of UVRAG or a mutated copy.

The team administered a shot of UV radiation to the cells and found that the normal UVRAG gene group’s damage was more than 50% repaired within 24 hours, whereas the group with reduced levels or mutated versions of UVRAG only saw 20% repair.

The researchers explained that UVRAG is involved in the DNA cell-repair process in response to UV radiation damage. Cell damage triggers a protein to search for lesions, and the protein identifies the UVRAG gene, which initiates the DNA repair process.

Liang remarked in a newsletter, “That means when people sunbathe or go tanning, those who have the normal UV-resistant gene can repair most UV-induced DNA burns in a timely manner, whereas those with the defective UV-resistant gene will have more damage left unrepaired. After daily accumulation, if they sunbathe or go tanning often, these people will have increased risk for developing skin cancers such as melanoma.”

This discovery could potentially pave the road for preventative strategies in skin cancer. Yongfei Yang, Phd, Keck School of Medicine, USC, concluded, “Perhaps one day a drug could stimulate the repairing functionality of the UV-resistant gene to ensure swift and effective repair of UV-damaged skin cells. That would be a good treatment for people who are at high risk of developing skin cancer.”