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Researchers Use Embryonic Model to Reprogram Malignant Melanoma

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Scientists at Northwestern University and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research have shown that malignant melanoma cells respond to signals within an embryonic chick microenvironment. A subset of these cells may be reprogrammed to become normal melanocytes, or pigment cells, and contribute to embryonic structures, a development that may hold promise in the treatment of one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

A report describing the group’s research was published in the Feb. 27 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The experiments were conducted jointly in a collaboration between the Institute’s Imaging Center and cancer biologists at Northwestern University. Paul Kulesa, Ph.D., Director of the Stowers Institute’s Imaging Center and first author on the paper, and colleagues worked with Mary J. C. Hendrix, Ph.D., President and Scientific Director of the Children’s Memorial Research Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and her team. Together, they demonstrated the ability of malignant melanoma cells to respond to embryonic environmental cues in a chick model in a manner similar to neural crest cells, the cell type from which melanocytes originate. Dr. Hendrix and colleagues further analyzed the chick embryos to show that the malignant melanoma cells lost their tumor-causing ability as they became reprogrammed by the embryonic microenvironment to assume a more normal melanocyte-like cell type. “This idea was pioneered 30 years ago by scientists who thought that the complex signals within an embryonic field may reprogram an adult metastatic cancer cell introduced into such an environment to contribute in a positive way to an embryonic structure,” said Dr. Kulesa. “Today, we have advanced imaging and molecular techniques that allow us to pose the same questions within an intact chick embryo and directly study the molecular signals involved in the reprogramming. The ancestral relationship between melanoma and the neural crest provides a wonderful bridge between developmental and cancer biology.” “These interesting findings published by the Imaging Center demonstrate the Institute’s investment in technological leadership,” said William B. Neaves, President and CEO of the Stowers Institute. “In addition to providing imaging support to researchers within the Stowers Institute, the Imaging Center conducts research within the field of developmental biology and provides a valuable collaborative resource to scientists here and elsewhere.”(Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Stowers Institute for Medical Research: March 2006.)

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Posted On: 13 March, 2006
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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