Our laboratory studies Merkel cell carcinoma, an often lethal skin cancer, with ultimate goal of discovering new approaches to treat this disease.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma is usually caused in part by an extremely common (typically harmless) virus that was discovered in 2008, the Merkel cell polyomavirus. Another very important cause is extensive exposure to sunlight, possibly many years earlier, and this cancer typically presents in Caucasians with a relatively light skin tone. About 80% of MCC cases are caused by the virus, with the remaining 20% being caused by very extensive damage by the sun in the United States. People who have significant, prolonged suppression of their immune system are at high risk of MCC, but over 90% of MCC patients have no known problem with their immune system.
UV-induced DNA damage
One hour of sunlight (UV) exposure generates ~100,000 DNA lesions per cell, which are mutagenic. In response to UV, cells activate multiple biological processes (primarily via the ATR kinase) to cope with these deleterious lesions. However, chronic UV exposure leads to development of skin cancers, the most prevalent cancers in humans (annual incidence is 3.5 million in the US that exceeds all other cancers combined).