Scientists at Bath University have discovered a ‘promising route’ to develop new treatments for skin cancer, after finding a molecule that suppresses melanoma tumour growth.

The team says that the early stage research could eventually help develop new ways to combat melanoma - and potentially other cancers too.

The molecules in question, IncRNAs, are transcribed from our DNA, and don’t make protein. Their function still remains largely unknown, but the particular group of IncRNAs the team were interested in are thought to be involved in cancer.

The study, published in PLOS Genetics, investigated a group of 245 IncRNAs that were associated with melanomas and found that one, “Disrupted In Renal Carcinoma 3” (DIRC3), acted as a tumour suppressor to block the spread of human melanoma cells when grown in lab experiments.

By using gene-editing to switch off production of DIRC3, the team then saw that "anchorage-independent growth" - a hallmark of malignant cancer spread - drastically increased by between two to eight times.

Furthermore, the scientists say that DIRC3 switches on the key tumour suppressor IGFBP5 gene, revealing that it plays a role in the complex networks governing the expression of genes important for melanoma growth and spread to other parts of the body.

Although it’s very early stages, Dr Keith Vance, from the University says that the team are very “excited by the potential of DIRC3 activating drugs to become a new way to treat skin cancer. This research makes vital steps towards any future therapy development.

"Great strides have recently been made in treating melanoma. However, not all patients respond to current therapies and most skin cancers become drug resistant over time, so a new way to treat it could be another tool in combatting the disease.”

He continued, "By investigating how DIRC3 works we can really start to understand how it blocks the spread of melanoma in detail at the molecular level, and identify druggable interfaces and specific structures that could be targets for medicine."

The discovery was made by the University’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry, with colleagues at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Oxford, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and University of Lausanne, Switzerland.