Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered a skin pigment mechanism that could be developed into a topical drug aimed at reducing skin cancer risk, according to a study published in Cell.
“We identified what we think is a druggable opportunity, an opportunity to inhibit function of enzyme using a small molecule topically that might be able to purposefully skew the pigmentation toward a type of melanin or a class of melanin that are more photoprotective —more capable of protecting our skin from ultraviolet radiation damage.”
— study author David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, chief of the department of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital
The study found that the enzyme nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase (NNT), which is in the mitochondria, regulates the amount of melanin being produced and that topical application of NNT small molecules resulted in darkening of human skin. They also found that darker pigmented skin was protected from DNA damage from UV radiation.
Four human cohorts showed skin color, tanning and sun protection use associated with single-nucleotide polymorphism with NNT, the study said.
“The exciting clinical implication that we hope to further pursue will be to study whether manipulating this pathway in a safe way can diminish the risk of skin cancer to pigment classes that are associated with lower risk,” Fisher adds.
Further research will include how to use this enzyme to create safe, efficacious molecules that can be applied on the skin to lower skin cancer risks.