We defined skin cancer as the abnormal growth of skin cells. For example “Melanoma” a very dangerous type of skin cancer. Researchers estimated that they claim one life every hour. Could there be one or more ways that can lower the risk of skin cancer? What if you change the skin color? Would this lower the risk of skin cancer? Yes, there may be….
Melanin is the biological pigments that give color to the skin, hair, and eyes. The cells in our epidermis that make this pigment are called melanocytes. And everyone has the same number of them but everyone’s melanocytes make different amounts of melanin and different kinds.
Besides giving skin color, Melanin does perform a few special functions. When you’re outside your skin is being exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the Sun and prolonged exposure can damage the DNA of your skin cells.
This can lead DNA to start malfunctioning and the life cycle of your skin cells is disrupted potentially causing uncontrolled replication and leading to cancerous growths. But this has a couple of defense mechanisms one of which is your melanocytes.
Inside your melanocytes are little melanin producing factories called melanosomes. Simply it is the powerhouse of the melanocytes. There are two kinds of melanin produced by these melanosomes: Eumelanin (a darker pigment) and pheomelanin (a light colored pigment).
Eumelanin blocks UV photons from damaging your skin. So when your skin is exposed to more Sun your melanocytes are turned on to produce more UV blocking melanin to protect your cells.
How much melanin and which kind is controlled by your genes that’s why some people’s skin tone deepens or is making more melanin when exposed to sunlight while others can’t produce more than a certain amount of melanin.
So more melanin equals darker skin tone and equals protection from the sun’s harmful rays. A big takeaway from all this detail is that those with more melanin particularly Eumelanin are at decreased risk for skin cancer.
And now researchers have explored how that level of protection can be artificially induced for those who don’t have it naturally. It turns out that the melanosomes that produce the two different types of melanin have different PHS.
Eumelanin the dark highly protective pigment is produced by melanosomes that are less acidic than the melanosomes that produce pheomelanin.
So researchers have posited and have now shown that they can actually change the relative amounts of which kind of melanin your melanosomes produce.
Inhibiting a certain enzyme called SAC (Soluble Adenylyl Cyclase) can make melanosomes PH less acidic and allows those cells to produce more eumelanin (meaning darker pigmentation and increased protection from skin cancer)
But they’re still not exactly sure why pH influences what kind of melanin your melanosomes produce and this is an area that researchers are hoping to explore further. It’s important to point out that this is different from regulating melanin production by changing the way our genes are expressed, it’s not genetic editing.
This new research could instead result in a pharmaceutical drug that induces pigment production potentially for use by populations vulnerable to skin cancer or those with pigmentation conditions that they’d like to treat this is still in the very early stages though being tested in mice and human skin cells and Petri dishes. It’s a long way from practical applications in humans.