Hormel Institute makes skin cancer breakthrough; Dr. Rebecca Morris publishes discovery in leading journal Nature Communications

Published 9:08 am Friday, December 14, 2018

Dr. Rebecca Morris

Dr. Rebecca Morris, I.J. Holton Professor of the Stem Cells and Cancer lab at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, published break-though skin cancer research based on findings from 14 years of scientific investigation.

The research used a bone marrow transplantation model to induce carcinogenesis with a hydrocarbon carcinogen and a plant compound as a tumor promoter.

One of the critical discoveries reported in the article “Bone marrow-derived epithelial cells and hair follicle stem cells contribute to development of chronic cutaneous neoplasms” showed evidence that a significant number of skin cancers involve recruited cells from the bone marrow.

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The team concluded that bone marrow-derived epithelial cells contribute to the development of papillomas and chronic dysplasia. This finding is surprising because it reveals that some squamous skin tumors have a previously unrecognized systemic component.

Dr. Morris and team also found that carcinogen exposed bone marrow can develop both benign and malignant skin lesions upon tumor promotion.

“Our research is a gateway to studying new therapeutic targets so we can intervene earlier to stop the development of skin cancer,” Morris said.  “This research demonstrates that although many skin cancers are induced by stem cells, and these cancers develop because of what is going on elsewhere. While it is surprising information, it is important because we can aim for better targets and stop cancer progression at the true source.”

These findings cast a new light on understanding skin cancer development. This is important because scientists can now look for new targets for treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers.

Skin cancer (usually basal or squamous cell) is the most common of all cancers. According to American Cancer Society, these cancers affect about 3.3 million Americans each year. About 8 out of 10 of these are basal cell cancers. Squamous cell cancers occur less often but are also more invasive. The number of these cancers has been increasing for many years, probably from a combination of improved detection, more sun exposure, and people living longer.

Dr. Morris’ research team included Heuijoon Park, Sonali Lad, Kelsey Boland, Kelly Johnson, Nyssa Readio, Ashok Singh, and Anupama Singh from The Hormel Institute; Guangchun Jin, Samuel Asfaha, Kelly S. Patterson, and Xiangdong Yang from Timothy C. Wang’s group at Columbia University; Douglas Londono and Derek Gordon from Rutgers University; and Carol Trempus from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.