Melanoma heterogeneity: understanding for better prevention
We start a project where we want to understand how the sun and UV light affect the genes of skin cells to seed the growth of melanoma skin cancer. We have now hired a postdoc, Christian Page in the project. He is an expert in methylation data, which we need to analyse. It is known that sun light and in general UV light is a risk factor for skin cancer. It is also known that skin cancer cells behave very differently from normal skin cells. All the cells in our body have the same DNA, but cancer cells have mutations or changes which allow them to grow more efficiently and to stop the natural mechanisms of DNA damage repair. Therefore, the sun and the UV light must be able to affect the genomics of skin cancer cells. One way of doing this is by changing gene methylation. We study three data sets together: a description of the exposure to sun and UV light, as reported by individuals; their history of skin cancer (if so) and their methylation measured from blood. This is data from the The Norwegian Women and Cancer study, NOWAC, in Tromsø. The first component of the data originates from questionnaires; the second from the Norwegian Cancer Register; the third component is based on blood samples from some of the women in NOWAC, which are now sequenced in Tromsø. The linking of the data is done within NOWAC. Professor Eiliv Lund is the PI of the NOWAC project, which has lead to many discoveries in various cancers. In our project, we hope to be able to understand how light affects methylation in the genes of cells by changing their methylation mechanisms. However, we have only access to methylation of cells in the blood. It is not sure that we will be able to find an association between methylation measured in the blood, exposure to sun and UV light and melanoma (and thickness of the melanoma, as a sign of its stage). However, a sign of methylation disruptions was found in the blood and associated to lung cancer and smoking. This allows us to be optimistic. It has also been observed changes in methylation due to exposure to light. We expect to start to analyse the data in 2017 and get first results.