Cancer comparison across species highlights new drug targets

mucosal melanoma

Cancer genes in mucosal melanoma, a rare and poorly understood subtype of melanoma, have been compared in humans, dogs and horses for the first time by UK scientists.  

Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and their collaborators sequenced the genomes of the same cancer across different species to pinpoint key cancer genes.

The results, reported in Nature Communications, give insights into how cancer evolves across the tree of life and could guide the development of new therapies.

Mucosal melanoma is a rare form of melanoma, a tumour type usually associated with skin cancer. 

The cancer arises from the cells that produce pigment, known as melanocytes, which are found not only in the skin but also mucosal surfaces of the body, such as the sinuses, nasal passages, mouth, vagina and anus.

The risk factors for mucosal melanoma are unknown, and there is no known link to UV exposure or family history. Patients with the cancer often present late in the progression of the disease, and the main treatment for mucosal melanoma is surgical removal of the tumour. As well as humans, the cancer affects dogs and horses with varying outcomes for the different species.

To uncover the genetics underpinning the cancer, researchers sequenced the genomes of mucosal melanoma tumours taken from human, canine and equine patients that had been diagnosed with the disease.

Analysing the genomic data from 46 human, 65 canine and 28 equine melanoma tumours, all at the primary stage of cancer, scientists revealed a handful of genes that were mutated in all species.

“Genomics gives us a unique view into the hidden similarities and differences of cancer between species,” corresponding author Dr David Adams said. 

“The genetic changes, or mutations, we found in mucosal melanoma tumours across humans, dogs and horses suggests they are important enough to be conserved between species. These key mutations are likely to drive the cancer and could be targets for the development of new drugs.”

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