Melanoma Treatment: Tetracycline Can Help Treat Certain Forms of Skin Cancer

Antibiotics of the tetracycline family can help treat certain forms of skin cancer, specifically by targeting the mitochondria, or energy centers, of cancer cells, according to a team of dermatologists from the Catholic University of Leuven. Indeed, some antibiotics appear to be specifically effective against melanoma, according to this preclinical study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM).



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Belgian scientists may have found a new weapon in the fight against melanoma: antibiotics that target the “powerhouses” of cancer cells. These antibiotics take advantage of the vulnerability that occurs in tumor cells as they try to survive cancer treatment.

Preventing melanoma cells from surviving and escaping.

“As cancer progresses, some melanoma cells may escape the treatment and ‘hide’ from the immune system, giving them the chance to form a new tumor mass later,” explained lead author Eleonora Leucci, a cancer researcher and RNA biologist at KU Leuven. “However, to survive cancer treatment, these inactive cells must maintain their mini-electrochemical stations or mitochondria. Because mitochondria descend from bacteria that have started living in the cells over time, they are very sensitive to certain classes of antibiotics.

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The team is testing the concept of targeting the mitochondria of cancer cells with antibiotics, in this case in mouse models of melanoma. In practice, the researchers implanted patient-derived tumors into mice, which were then treated with antibiotics, either as a separate treatment or in combination with existing anti-melanoma therapies. The trial showed that:

  • Antibiotics kill many cancer cells quickly and save precious time needed to activate immunotherapy
  • For tumors that no longer respond to targeted therapies, antibiotics can extend the life and in some cases even cure mice.
  • Highly specific antibiotics: these antibiotics are currently rarely used to treat bacterial infections, mainly because of the increase in resistance. However, in this study, this resistance does not affect the effectiveness of the treatment, since the cancer cells are still very sensitive to these antibiotics.

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The researchers warn that melanoma patients should not try this treatment, which has not yet been validated in clinical trials. However, targeting mitochondria in melanoma cells already appears to be a promising option to complement standard cancer treatment.

NB. the best way to prevent melanoma from occurring in the first place is to avoid sun exposure and to keep track of any suspicious lesion on the skin. In most cases when melanoma is detected early a complete cure could be achieved. However, if the melanoma has already metastasized then a cure becomes difficult to achieve.

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Activation of the integrated stress response confers vulnerability to mitoribosome-targeting antibiotics in melanoma



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