Researchers at the University of Southern California found that this gene is a suppressor for skin cancer, which is currently the most common form of cancer in many developed countries.
The study was published in Molecular Cell and draws from data from 340 melanoma patients who participated in the Cancer Genome Atlas, which included two experimental groups with either reduced levels of the UV-resistant gene or a mutant copy of that gene in melanoma cells and 50 fly eyes.
Understanding the UV-resistant gene
"If we understand how this UV-resistant gene functions and the processes by which cells repair themselves after ultraviolet damage, then we could find targets for drugs to revert a misguided mechanism back to normal conditions," said Chengyu Liang, the study's senior author and an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
The scientists gave a UV shot to cells carrying the normal UV-resistant gene and cells carrying defective copies of it, finding that 24-hours later the resistant gene had largely repaired itself from the UV damage by more than 50%, while the defective gene had only shown a 20% recovery from the damage.
"People who have the mutated UV-resistant gene or low levels of the UV-resistant gene may be at higher risk of melanoma or other skin cancers, especially if they go sunbathing or tanning frequently," Liang said. "Our study suggests that the UV-resistant gene may serve as a biomarker for skin cancer prevention."
Cancer and the defective gene
Further to this, the scientists say that their research was able to demonstrate a real correlation between an increased cancer risk in people with the defective gene, although the evidence is still not definitive.
However, the USC-led team says it has now identified what the UV-resistant gene does and how it operates in a general population.
"The UV-resistant gene is a tumor suppressor involved in the UV-repair process of a cell's DNA and is essential for preventing UV-induced genomic instability," said Yongfei Yang, lead author and a research associate at Keck Medicine of USC. "When the UV-resistant gene is lost, the cell cannot efficiently repair UV- and chemical-induced damage."
The scientific team says it hopes that the research it has conducted could eventually lead to a drug or treatment that could stimulate the repairing functionality of the UV-resistant gene to effectively repair UV-damaged skin cells.