May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month

Weizmann Institute scientists are working towards new treatments

E-News, May 2021 • TAGS: Cancer, Bacteria, Personalized medicine

This summer, after more than a year of pandemic shutdowns, we are more excited than ever to get outside. But we can’t let down our guard when it comes to sun exposure, which is the primary cause of the most common cancer in the world: skin cancer. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation says that over 85% of melanomas are linked to UV radiation, and having more than five sunburns doubles your risk of developing this deadliest form of skin cancer.

That’s why the single most powerful step you can take is to protect yourself by using high-SPF sunblock, wearing a hat, and otherwise treating your skin like the sensitive organ it is. However, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70, and so improving existing treatments is also vital.

Melanoma’s dangerousness is in large part because it can contain thousands of mutations and is notoriously treatment-resistant. In fact, on average, it has more mutations in the DNA of its cells than any other solid tumor. Weizmann Institute of Science researchers are studying those mutations and other processes in the cancer cells in order to shed light on melanoma and develop new ways to attack it – including through new, more targeted immunotherapies. 

Dr. Ravid Straussman discovered that bacteria can be found not only in cancer cells – including melanoma – but also in immune cells that reside inside tumors. His headline-making research helps explain treatment resistance and could improve cancer immunotherapy. Immediately understanding the power of Dr. Straussman’s breakthroughs, Prof. Yardena Samuels – a world-leading melanoma researcher – applied his methods in her own work, and found that cancer cells have bacteria on the inside and on the outside. These bacterial peptides (proteins the bacteria produce) tell the immune system that the cancer cells are foreign and should be attacked.

Prof. Samuels and a group of colleagues, including other scientists at Weizmann and at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, and the National Cancer Institute, wondered if these peptides could be used as targets for immunotherapy drugs, thus enabling scientists to more precisely aim treatments at the cancer cells.

To do so, reported The Jerusalem Post, the team studied melanoma tumors from several patients to find out which peptides could be “seen” by the immune system. They discovered 41 different bacteria with about 300 peptides. By putting these peptides on the outside, the cancer cells basically wave a flag at the immune system, declaring that they, as mutations, do not belong.

Being able to target these peptides could help medical teams to treat patients more effectively, personalize therapies, and even predict the result of treatments – which means that they can avoid therapies that won’t work, saving valuable time and not causing unnecessary side effects for the patient.

Prof. Samuels and her colleagues’ discovery is so crucial because today’s immunotherapies, while a huge improvement over earlier melanoma treatments, only help around 40% of skin cancer patients, and the new findings could lead to much improved treatments and save untold numbers of lives.

It’s Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Please help amazing Weizmann scientists like Dr. Straussman and Prof. Samuels continue to lead the battle against cancer – in May and beyond. And don’t forget the sunscreen!

May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month

Weizmann Institute scientists are working towards new treatments

E-News, May 2021 • TAGS: Cancer , Bacteria , Personalized medicine

This summer, after more than a year of pandemic shutdowns, we are more excited than ever to get outside. But we can’t let down our guard when it comes to sun exposure, which is the primary cause of the most common cancer in the world: skin cancer. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation says that over 85% of melanomas are linked to UV radiation, and having more than five sunburns doubles your risk of developing this deadliest form of skin cancer.

That’s why the single most powerful step you can take is to protect yourself by using high-SPF sunblock, wearing a hat, and otherwise treating your skin like the sensitive organ it is. However, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70, and so improving existing treatments is also vital.

Melanoma’s dangerousness is in large part because it can contain thousands of mutations and is notoriously treatment-resistant. In fact, on average, it has more mutations in the DNA of its cells than any other solid tumor. Weizmann Institute of Science researchers are studying those mutations and other processes in the cancer cells in order to shed light on melanoma and develop new ways to attack it – including through new, more targeted immunotherapies. 

Dr. Ravid Straussman discovered that bacteria can be found not only in cancer cells – including melanoma – but also in immune cells that reside inside tumors. His headline-making research helps explain treatment resistance and could improve cancer immunotherapy. Immediately understanding the power of Dr. Straussman’s breakthroughs, Prof. Yardena Samuels – a world-leading melanoma researcher – applied his methods in her own work, and found that cancer cells have bacteria on the inside and on the outside. These bacterial peptides (proteins the bacteria produce) tell the immune system that the cancer cells are foreign and should be attacked.

Prof. Samuels and a group of colleagues, including other scientists at Weizmann and at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, and the National Cancer Institute, wondered if these peptides could be used as targets for immunotherapy drugs, thus enabling scientists to more precisely aim treatments at the cancer cells.

To do so, reported The Jerusalem Post, the team studied melanoma tumors from several patients to find out which peptides could be “seen” by the immune system. They discovered 41 different bacteria with about 300 peptides. By putting these peptides on the outside, the cancer cells basically wave a flag at the immune system, declaring that they, as mutations, do not belong.

Being able to target these peptides could help medical teams to treat patients more effectively, personalize therapies, and even predict the result of treatments – which means that they can avoid therapies that won’t work, saving valuable time and not causing unnecessary side effects for the patient.

Prof. Samuels and her colleagues’ discovery is so crucial because today’s immunotherapies, while a huge improvement over earlier melanoma treatments, only help around 40% of skin cancer patients, and the new findings could lead to much improved treatments and save untold numbers of lives.

It’s Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Please help amazing Weizmann scientists like Dr. Straussman and Prof. Samuels continue to lead the battle against cancer – in May and beyond. And don’t forget the sunscreen!