Mast cells regulate chronic UV-induced skin neoplasia
Australians are at high risk of sun-induced skin cancer and skin damage caused by the harmful ultraviolet (UV)-B rays in sunlight. Our research focuses on understanding how skin mast cells (specialised immune cells in the skin), can act as part of the body’s natural defence against UVB-related skin cancer development. Our research has shown that the ‘anti-inflammatory’ functions of mast cells can restrain inflammation associated with tumour development and growth. Understanding how the body can protect against excessive skin damage, inflammation and cancer will provide key insights into designing and implementing prevention and treatment strategies in the future.
What we aim to achieve
We aim to explore the ‘anti-inflammatory’ mechanisms of mast cells as well as their ‘plasticity’ (the ability to change according to the environment), in order to identify potential skin cancer treatments. Our research will not only help in prevention and treatment of skin cancer but also has wide applicability to other types of cancer, where mast cells can be found adjacent to such tumours and their activity mobilised toward promotion of health and the combat of disease.
Our next steps and milestones
Our next step is to identify targets that engage the changeability (plasticity) of these cells and use them to promote health. We have already entered into partnership with CSL Limited to develop drugs that restrain the ‘bad’ attributes and encourage the ‘good’ attributes of mast cells. For some of these drugs we are currently at the stage of providing ‘proof of principle’ prior to engaging in Phase 1 (human) clinical trials.
What motivates me
There are two major reasons I pursue cancer research: Firstly, there is still much that needs to be discovered in terms of how cells become dysregulated (the change in a cell cycle that leads to cancer) and the impact that the tissue environment has on this process. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that promote cancer development will help us to identify new drugs that restrain cancer growth and inhibit metastasis (cancer spread). Ultimately, this will provide us with better knowledge and tools to treat and even prevent various types of cancers. This leads to the second major reason I pursue cancer research: to provide hope for cancer sufferers that their treatment will be successful. This is an important goal that underscores our research from basic discovery through to drug development in clinical settings.
My message to supporters
Our research has great prospects in the fight against skin cancer and we rely on funding to develop cancer therapies. Without the generous support of Cancer Council SA this project could not have proceeded. We can now gather the insights necessary to attract substantive and longer term funding through national and international sources.