Robertson used human melanoma cells, applying siRNA, small interfering ribonucleic acids, or BAY 43-9006, a general Raf inhibitor, to show that lowering mutant B-Raf protein reduced melanoma development.
"Reducing B-Raf activity in melanoma cells before tumors had formed significantly decreased the growth potential of the melanoma cells and, in effect, prevented tumor development," Robertson said. "In contrast, reducing B-Raf activity in existing tumors in a mouse model did not shrink the tumors but did prevent them from getting bigger. These discoveries are important for the treatment of metastatic melanoma since therapeutically inhibiting mutant B-Raf could prevent growth of existing tumors and more importantly prevent development of metastatic tumors at secondary sites."
The study shows that in existing melanoma tumors, inhibiting V599EB-Raf activity reduced vascular development, which is essential for tumor growth. Without vascular support the tumors remained the same size. This process occurs by reducing the secretion of VEGF, a factor downstream of B-Raf promoting vascular development, from melanoma cells.
"Because the tumors remained the same size, siRNA or BAY 43-9006 would have to be paired with another therapeutic agent to cause the tumors to shrink or disappear," Robertson said.
Of the major types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most metastatic and lethal form. It is currently the seventh most common cancer in the U.S., with about 52,000 cases diagnosed annually. Furthermore, it is the cancer with the second fastest growth rate. In 2004, an American's lifetime risk of developing melanoma was one in 63 and at the current rate of increase will be one in 50 by 2010. As a direct result of a lack of effective therapeutics, the 2005 prognosis for patients in the metastatic stages of the disease remains very poor with average survival ranging from six to 10 months.