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The drug leflunomide, which is currently being used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, could now help to fight melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer.

After conducting the ability to affect the development of pigment cells in tadpoles, scientists seemed to have found a way to deal with melanoma. Why tadpoles you may ask? The reason being the pattern of dark spots on a tadpole’s skin is similar to the way melanoma cancer cells spreads in human beings.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia and Children’s Hospital Boston in America proclaimed that leflunomide stops the growth of malignant melanoma. And they are optimistic that this drug could be out in about five years’ time once the clinical trails prove successful. Releasing the drug into the market will not be that difficult as it is licensed and already being used to treat another disease.

Scientists conducted tests on the drug leflunomide and discovered it drastically reduced tumour growth in mice too. Combined with another experimental melanoma drug called PLX4720, they were amazed to find the two compounds almost stopped cancer growth completely.

Researchers from the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, also studied zebra fish, which they believe can be genetically engineered to imitate melanoma in human beings. They are confident of understanding changes in cells by studying cancer development amongst zebra fish and frogs more closely to come up with more positive therapies to treat skin cancer.

Its not uncommon, of course, for a treatment to be a by-product of a drug originally intended and used for an altogether different health condition. Finasteride is one such example. It was originally approved to treat prostate cancer, but one of its side effects was resulting in hair growth in some of the patients, and after some trials, it was also approved as a hair loss treatment.

What is melanoma?

To understand melanoma, we first need to know that melanin is responsible for skin colour and is produced by skin cells called melanocytes. And melanoma is the result of these melanocytes growing in an uncontrollable fashion.

Growth of skin cancer rates

With more young people opting to get artificially tanned, researchers have predicted an increase in skin cancer rates. It is estimated that there have been 40,000 deaths from melanoma globally and the number of cases is set to double in developed countries from 138,000 a year to 227,000 by 2019. According to the American Cancer Society about 68,000 people in America were diagnosed in 2010 and 8,700 patients died after suffering from melanoma.

If detected at an early stage, melanoma tumours can be removed through surgery. However, around 2,000 Britons die every year from malignant melanoma even after surgery and 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed on an annual basis.

Hopefully development of this will stay on track and help produce a drug to combat this deadly form of skin cancer.

Sources:
1) American Cancer Society
2) British Medical Association (BMA)