New "sunscreen gene" that prevents skin cancer discovered

A new sunscreen gene that prevents skin cancer has been discovered by researchers at The University of Southern California.

The breakthrough could lead to the development of a drug that targets the “UV radiation resistance associated gene” which suppresses skin tumours such as melanoma, a type of cancer that develops in the cells that produce melanin.

Researchers gave a UV shot to cells carrying the normal UV-resistant gene and others carrying defective copies. After 24 hours, the normal versions had repaired themselves of more than 50% of the UV damage while the defective samples fixed less than 20%.

Professor Chengyu Liang, of the University of Southern California, said: "If we understand how this UV-resistant gene functions and the processes by which cells repair themselves after ultraviolet damage, then we could find targets for drugs to revert a misguided mechanism back to normal conditions.

"People who have the mutated UV-resistant gene or low levels of the UV-resistant gene may be at higher risk of melanoma or other skin cancers, especially if they go sunbathing or tanning frequently. Our study suggests the UV-resistant gene may serve as a biomarker for skin cancer prevention."

The researchers used data from 340 melanoma patients who participated in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a project which catalogues genetic mutations responsible for cancer.

Melanoma kills more than 2,000 brits a year and this figure has doubled over the past three decades, as more and more of us take holidays in the sun.