UNC logoIronically, melanoma is known to be one of the only forms of cancer which despite all efforts is still scaling upwards. Most common among the younger adult population, reportedly the occurrence of this ailment has risen by over 50 percent in women below 30 years of age since 1980. A team of UNC researchers as part of a new study have apparently revealed that a particular test of biomarkers used for DNA methylation is achievable technically. The test could help in the accurate and timely diagnosis of melanoma.

The investigators conducted tests of whether DNA methylation could be achieved on melanoma and mole tissues that had been stored in fixatives. Generally this is done for their pathological examination post biopsy. It was observed that the results on tissues that were formed in this manner were more stable. Also it was possible to distinguish malignant melanomas from moles that were non-malignant using DNA methylation.

“When melanoma is diagnosed early, the prognosis is good. However, once it spreads, it is very difficult to treat. Melanomas and moles can appear similar on the skin and under the microscope making diagnosis of some melanomas difficult. That’s why we wanted to determine whether a test for DNA methylation is feasible as a tool for diagnosis,” mentioned Nancy Thomas, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Kathleen Conway Dorsey, PhD, further revealed, “We are very excited because, with this study, we have shown that this type of testing is feasible and that it has the potential to reliably distinguish between melanoma and benign skin lesions. Devising a molecular test that could aid in the early specific diagnosis of melanoma could have significant benefit for patients.” Conway is assistant research professor of epidemiology at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

According to the analysis, there are sites on 22 genes that have importantly variating levels of methylation between melanoma and non-melanoma lesions. Also 12 locations seemingly have much higher chances of predicting melanoma. The team additionally intends to formulate a DNA methylation test that can help melanoma tumor DNA that is dropped off into the bloodstream. Doing so might help to calculate the activity of the disease.

The findings feature in a paper published online last week in the journal Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research.