Who needs sunblock? Scientists at the Oregon State University (OSU) College of Pharmacy may have just developed a vaccine that could help protect against sun-induced skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine would be a messenger RNA one such as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines used for COVID-19.
“Despite efforts to improve public awareness about the warning signs of melanoma and the dangers of excess exposure to UV radiation, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise,” said in a statement Arup Indra, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at OSU and the study’s leader.
"For more than 40 years researchers have looked at dietary antioxidants as a possible source of inexpensive, low-risk agents for cancer prevention but they have not always performed well in clinical trials and in some cases have actually been harmful – hence the need to try to intervene with new chemoprevention agents such as an mRNA vaccine.”
The research was based on a protein within the thioredoxin antioxidant system called TR1. This protein is believed to be capable of preventing oxidative stress on melanocytes, the cells in the skin that are triggered by the sun's UV radiation.
In a study using mice, the researchers removed TR1 from their antioxidant systems to evaluate how the protein affected the protection of melanocytes. They found that without TR1, melanocyte proliferation was significantly reduced.
They thus concluded that TR1 directly affects melanocytes, which are responsible for preventing skin cancer, and that if a vaccine could generate more TR1s it could protect against sun-induced UV damage.
“Following uptake of the mRNA into the cell and the cell’s machinery going to work, the cell should be at a high antioxidant level and able to take care of oxidative stress and DNA damage arising from ultraviolet radiation,” Indra said.
The researcher further suggested that people at increased risk of skin cancer could be vaccinated once a year for added sun protection. The study was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.