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Scientists supported by Marie Curie Actions uncover gene that causes spread of skin cancer

A new study has pinpointed the specific gene that must be present before malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, can spread.

Cancer's ability to metastasise is what makes it so dangerous, so understanding what triggers metastatic behaviour is vital for furthering our knowledge of the disease and reducing high death rates. Although survival rates have been on the up over the past 25 years and are now amongst the highest for any cancer, malignant melanoma still causes around 46 000 deaths worldwide each year, and it is particularly prevalent in young people: in the United Kingdom, for instance, at least two young adults are diagnosed with the disease every day.

EU funding for the study came in the form of a Marie Curie Industry-Academia Partnership and Pathway grant, as part of the 'People' Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The aim of the Marie Curie Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways programme is to boost skills exchange between the commercial and non-commercial sectors working on joint research projects.

With contributions from researchers hailing from a variety of different institutions in Canada, France, Ireland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, the findings from this new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, could play an important part in this fight against malignant melanoma. The team found that the gene P-Rex1 plays a key role in the spread of malignant melanoma in mice samples. The researchers observed that if P-Rex1 was absent from cells, the melanoma tumours were unable to spread. After further investigation, they worked out the exact mechanism that P-Rex1 uses to drive metastasis.

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