Developments to Watch
HOMING IN ON THE GENETIC FLAW THAT CAUSES SKIN CANCER
Scientists have known for more than a decade that about 10% of the cases of the deadliest skin cancer, malignant melanoma, seem to be inherited. That has touched off a search for the gene causing the scourge, which strikes about 32,000 Americans--and kills about 7,800--annually. Over the past several years, they have homed in on a region of DNA, located on chromosome 9, that seems to play a key role in the cancer. In some patients with tumors, for example, chunks of DNA are missing in this section of the chromosome.
Now, a team of 16 researchers from 8 different centers may have pinpointed the melanoma gene. In the Nov. 13 issue of Science, they reported that 82 cases of melanoma in 11 different extended families involve genetic flaws in one key spot on chromosome 9. The next step is figuringout what the exact genetic defect is. Current thinking is that the gene probably codes for a protein that suppresses tumors. So when the gene is defective, the melanoma is allowed to spread. After they identify the gene--which could also be the culprit in noninherited cases of the disease--scientists may be able to develop drugs that counteract the flaw.Edited by Naomi Freundlich