Hormel Institute - Major Breakthrough in Understanding How Skin Cancer Develops

December 13, 2018

The Hormel Institute's Dr. Rebecca Morris publishes discovery in leading journal Nature Communications

Austin, Minn. - Dr. Rebecca Morris, I.J. Holton Professor of the Stem Cells and Cancer lab at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, published break-though skin cancer research based on findings from 14 years of scientific investigation. Her research team included Heuijoon Park, Sonali Lad, Kelsey Boland, Kelly Johnson, Nyssa Readio, Ashok Singh, and Anupama Singh from The Hormel Institute; Guangchun Jin, Samuel Asfaha, Kelly S. Patterson, and Xiangdong Yang from Timothy C. Wang’s group at Columbia University; Douglas Londono and Derek Gordon from Rutgers University; and Carol Trempus from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The research used a bone marrow transplantation model to induce carcinogenesis with a hydrocarbon carcinogen and a plant compound as a tumor promoter.  

One of the critical discoveries reported in the article "Bone marrow-derived epithelial cells and hair follicle stem cells contribute to development of chronic cutaneous neoplasms" showed evidence that a significant number of skin cancers involve recruited cells from the bone marrow. The team concluded that bone marrow-derived epithelial cells contribute to the development of papillomas and chronic dysplasia. This finding is surprising because it reveals that some squamous skin tumors have a previously unrecognized systemic component.

Dr. Morris and team also found that carcinogen exposed bone marrow can develop both benign and malignant skin lesions upon tumor promotion.

"Our research is a gateway to studying new therapeutic targets so we can intervene earlier to stop the development of skin cancer," said Morris.  

"This research demonstrates that although many skin cancers are induced by stem cells, and these cancers develop because of what is going on elsewhere.  While it is surprising information, it is important because we can aim for better targets and stop cancer progression at the true source."

These findings cast a new light on our understanding of skin cancer development. This is important because scientists can now look for new targets for treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers.

Skin cancer (usually basal or squamous cell) is the most common of all cancers. According to American Cancer Society, these cancers affect about 3.3 million Americans each year. About 8 out of 10 of these are basal cell cancers. Squamous cell cancers occur less often but are also more invasive.The number of these cancers has been increasing for many years, probably from a combination of improved detection, more sun exposure, and people living longer.

About The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota

The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota is a leading cancer research department of UMN and part of the Masonic Cancer Center, an NCI Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Collaborative research partners with Mayo Clinic, Zhengzhou University, MD Anderson, Columbia University, University of Arizona and renowned centers worldwide, The Hormel Institute tripled in size in 2008 and again doubled in size in 2016. Currently, the faculty and staff are comprised of 130 leading cancer-research scientists and 14 cancer research sections. Over the next few years, The Hormel Institute UMN will add another 130 new faculty and staff jobs as part of its expansion as it continues to perform world-class research in the quest to prevent and control cancer.

About Nature Communications

Nature Communications is an open access journal that publishes high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences. Papers published by the journal represent important advances of significance to specialists within each field.

For the full article, please visit https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07688-8

Contact: Gail Dennison
gdennison@hi.umn.edu
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