Helping Skin Cells Differentiate May Help Treat Skin Cancer

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a key regular that impedes skin replacement – a blockage which can trigger the development of skin cancer. Their findings were published in Cell Reports.

The skin’s outer layer replaces itself approximately every month, but when this process becomes hindered, it can cause the growth of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), a skin cancer caused by the abnormal growth of skin cells. Along with basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a similar form of cancer, they outnumber all other human cancers combined. While many patients are eligible for curative surgery to remove these skin lesions, others are not candidates for surgery and require alternative options. Previous research has shown that when these skin cancers grow renewable skin cells fail to differentiate themselves during reproduction.

In this study, researchers were able to exhibit that LSD1 – a regulator responsible for telling parent cells what type of specific cells to make as they reproduce – plays a critical role in the growth of non-melanoma skin cancers, and that impeding LSD1 could be an effective, targeted treatment method for those cancers.

Findings Could ‘Open the Door’ To New Therapies

LSD1 is typically elevated in many types of cancer, and there are several inhibitors that attempt to target this regulator. However, until now, no study has shown its role in subduing the genes skin cells require for healthy turnover. Possessing that knowledge could open the door to a new treatment method that blocks LSD1 with the use of a skin cream or other topical therapy.

“Our study shows that targeting LSD1 can force the skin cells down a differentiation path, which could open the door to new topical therapies that can ultimately turn tumor cells into healthier, more normal cells,” said the study’s senior author Brian C. Capell, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Dermatology and a member of Penn’s Epigenetics Institute and Abramson Cancer Center in a press release about the study. The co-lead authors of this the are Shaun Egolf, a graduate student, and Yann Aubert, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow.

“By knocking out LSD1, we can essentially turn the switch back on that would tell the skin to differentiate in a healthy way,” Capell said.

Further research is underway to prove the efficacy of this concept, which would prompt human clinical trials.