UC Researcher Lights Up Over New Equipment to Study Melanoma

Researchers and equipment

Left to Right: Candi Taggart (mother of Andy Caress and board member of the Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation), Professor Zalfa Abdel-Malek and Leanne Blair (Executive Director of Melanoma Know More Foundation).

University of Cincinnati (UC) melanoma researcher Zalfa Abdel-Malek, PhD, is over the moon about something just the opposite: a new solar UV simulator recently installed in her laboratory in the Department of Dermatology at the UC College of Medicine.

“We had an urgent need for this equipment, which my staff now uses almost daily,” Abdel-Malek says of the Oriel Instruments solar simulator that emits light encompassing the entire spectrum of solar ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth—both UV and UVA rays—to which all living things are exposed.

Given that solar ultraviolet radiation is the main environmental factor that causes skin cancer, including melanoma, she says the simulator is being used to conduct experiments with skin cells and intact skin samples, as well as melanoma rodent models that are exposed to different doses of solar radiation in order to determine the impact on DNA.

Abdel-Malek, professor and a member of the UC Cancer Institute and the Cincinnati Cancer Center, is widely known for her work with the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), the receptor for a hormone called alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH), which regulates skin pigmentation and the tanning response to sun exposure. Her research team was the first to discover that alpha-MSH repairs precancerous damage that UV rays cause to skin cell DNA, the genetic material within cells. The MC1R gene is a melanoma predisposition gene, since some of its genetic variants that result in fair skin, red hair and inability to tan are associated with increased risk for melanoma.

The instrument, she says, has an added benefit, since it allows for investigating the effects of different dosage of (i.e. time of exposure to) the entire spectrum of solar UV on skin cells. The instrument the department had prior to could only emit the short wavelength UVB rays, which is highly carcinogenic, yet represents less than 10 percent of the UV rays received from the sun.

Knowing that Abdel-Malek’s team is on the forefront of skin science research, two regional melanoma foundations—Melanoma Know More (MKM) and the Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation (ACMF)—helped finance the solar simulator with a joint contribution of $35,000 toward its purchase.

“Dr. Abdel-Malek is focused on identifying high risk individuals, interrupting the growth of melanoma and developing preventive agents and the research holds promise for providing new weapons in the on-going battle against melanoma,” says Candi Taggart, ACMF board member and mother to Andy Caress, the organization’s founder, who lost his battle with melanoma in 2010.

MKM board president Matt Fearn stated, “We are grateful to have such a strong partner in the University of Cincinnati and Dr. Abdel-Malek’s research focus on prevention is the key component in eradicating the deadly effects of melanoma, and for us to play a small part in supporting the preventative research initiatives at the university fits squarely within our mission of awareness.”

Abdel-Malek says the instrument will certainly step up the sophistication of her team’s testing methods which she says will be necessary to secure future state and federal funding toward melanoma research.

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