Drug Could Prevent Melanoma

May 25, 2009 5:33:59 PM PDT
What was once considered a healthy tan is now called a health risk. Every year more than one million people are diagnosed with dangerous forms of skin cancer, but researchers now say they've developed a drug that could save our skin from the sun.Kathy Hermes is a self proclaimed sun goddess. Her family loves being outdoors, but they realize soaking up rays is risky.

"Skin cancer is a big concern but it's not going to keep me out of the sun," Hermes told Ivanhoe. Sunscreen alone isn't always enough.

"As you age, this upper layer of the skin gets very thin and flattened," Elaine Jacobson, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of Arizona and Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson, explained to Ivanhoe. "Now you've lost your protection that normally keeps the sun from penetrating deep into the skin."

Researchers at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, researchers developed a new drug aimed at preventing the most common nonmelanoma skin cancer -- actinic keratosis. The drug, from the vitamin niacin, is called myristyl nicotinate. It works with receptors in the upper layers of the skin to give it greater protection from dangerous UV rays.

"The amount of ultraviolet light you can be exposed to before you get a sunburn is increased 10 to 20 percent," Dr. Jacobson said.

The drug comes in the form of a skin cream. In two preliminary clinical trials, researchers say it proved safe and effective, strengthening the skin's barrier against sunlight.

"In a sense, myristyl nicotinate is giving you a biological SPF," Dr. Jacobson said.

"It would be a good thing not to have to worry about it," Hermes said.

Doctors say Hermes and her kids still need to be careful, but the new drug could reduce the skin cancer risk for those who want their time in the sun.

Dr. Jacobson says the drug is not designed to take the place of sunscreen. A national FDA supervised clinical trial is next to see if the drug can prevent skin cancers in people who have already had the disease.

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