Collagen plays a key role in some skin cancers


A team of Belgian researchers has demonstrated that it is the environment in which cancer cells are present that plays a crucial role in their development, far more so than the nature of the cells themselves.

A team of researchers from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), led by Professor Cédric Blanpain, Director of the Stem Cells and Cancer Laboratory, has just published an important discovery in the journal Nature that improves understanding of the development of certain forms of skin cancer.

The Belgian scientists have been able to lift the veil on the enigma of understanding why "oncogenic" cells, i.e. those capable of generating cancer, lead to invasive tumours in certain areas of the skin but not in others.

Experiments were carried out on mice, and according to Professor Cédric Blanpain, "The wrong gene was expressed throughout the skin (ear, back, tail). We realised that there was a cancer that expressed itself very quickly in the tail or ears. Whereas cancer never formed in the skin of the back. And at first, we didn't really know why. We took a closer look and developed a new imaging technique where we can watch the cancer form over time on a live animal."

Professor Cédric Blanpain and his team were then able to demonstrate that in the environment most resistant to the development of cancer cells, there was much more collagen (a protein that forms fibres and filaments and is a major component of many tissues, including skin).

This discovery shows for the first time that cancer is not necessarily caused by a single mutation, but by a mutation in a specific environment.