The heat of summer brings us out into the water and directly in the line of fire of the sun’s UV radiation. Many of us grumble about applying sunscreen and wish it could be simply applied once for the whole summer. Thanks to a $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, a research team at the University of Cincinnati is developing a topical cream that makes this fantasy possible by taking UV protection to a new level.
The main function of this new “super-sunscreen” is to accelerate the activity of melanocytes using an extra dose of alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH for short). Melanocytes are skin pigmentation cells whose function is to produce melanin, a chemical that blocks out ultraviolet rays from the sun and gives the skin color (diagram at right, courtesy Wikimedia Commons). The hormone alpha-MSH stimulates the melanocytes into making more melanin, making the skin darker and less susceptible to UV damage. As with normal tanning, the pigment wears off after a while, but certainly not in the course of a few hours like the temporary protection that traditional sunscreen offers.
The leader of the research team, Professor Zalfa Abdel-Malek, began development of this cream eight years ago with the goal of fighting melanoma. She believes that prevention of UV damage is the best way to fight melanoma, which is why the cream is focused on protection. There’s even more to this cream than that, however: it can also help fight the early stages of melanoma. "We showed that alpha-MSH repairs DNA damage caused by excessive sun exposure, reversing the cancer-causing effects of UV radiation,” Abdel-Malek explains in a University of Cincinnati news article.
Of course, once melanoma progresses far enough, a simple cream won’t be sufficient to repair the damage. This is why Abdel-Malek stresses that avoiding UV damage in the first place is critical. "Melanoma cells tend to be resistant, and treatment is not often effective, as many reemerge more aggressively. Prevention is so important, and the development of a topical cream that could prevent skin cancer by increasing skin pigmentation and repairing DNA damage caused by UV exposure could tremendously reduce the incidence of melanoma and all forms of sun-induced skin cancer.” Thankfully, the cream makes prevention easier since it needs to be applied less frequently than traditional sunscreen.
Abdel-Malek and her team received a $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to continue their research. If funding information for the research at UC interests you, consider reading our free University of Cincinnati Funding Stats and Vendor Show Info report, accessible here:
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