A new research has identified cancer cells called 'co-conspirator' in the genesis of melanoma - a finding that could be the key to predicting and preventing skin cancer.
Apart from the body's pigment-producing cells where melanoma takes hold, other skin cells in what's called the "microenvironment" of the cancer site also play a key role, Oregon State University scientists said.
These 'co-conspirator' cells called keratinocytes drive the changes and malignant transformation in the pigment-producing cells, which are called melanocytes, said Arup Indra.
"They work in coordination, they are partners in crime," he said.
The study found that a protein called RXR-alpha in skin keratinocytes appears to protect pigment cells from damage, and prevent them from progressing to invasive melanoma.
Conversely, when the protein was removed or repressed, melanoma cells became aggressive and invaded the animals' lymph nodes.
However, both the protective protein and pigment cells are prone to damage from chemical toxins or ultraviolet sunlight in the pigment cells.
"Better understanding this process will help us design new and novel strategies for prevention and, possibly, a cure," Indra said.
This study was featured on the current cover of the journal Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research.