A group of researchers working with The Melanoma Genetics Consortium, an international research syndicate, have provided evidence that longer telomeres increase the risk of developing melanoma. The work was conducted at the University of Leeds (UK) and published recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Mark Iles, School of Medicine at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, reported: “For the first time, we have established that the genes controlling the length of these telomeres play a part in the risk of developing melanoma.”
The study is the largest to date to examine the link between telomere length and melanoma risk, comparing 11,108 melanoma cases with 13,933 control patients from across the United States, Europe, Israel and Australia. This genome-wide association study focussed on seven known or suspected genetic variations, and revealed a strong correlation between telomere length and melanoma risk.
The team used established telomere-associated genes to create a score for genetically determined telomere length, and discovered that this score was associated with melanoma risk. Individuals predicted to have the longest telomeres (one in four) have a 30% increased risk of developing melanoma when compared with the one in four predicted to have the shortest telomeres.
Telomeres are regions of repetitive DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect them from environmental damage. Interestingly, shorter telomeres are associated with disease susceptibility and a variety of other cancers, as reported by Christopher Amos (co-author, associate cancer center director for population sciences and interim deputy director at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center, NH, USA): “Telomere length plays a key role in survival of cells and shorter telomere lengths are associated with aging and cardiovascular disease along with many cancers.”
Although the reason for the connection between longer telomeres and melanoma is currently unknown, researchers propose that longer telomeres delay the aging process and thus the likelihood of cellular variation is increased.
Amos highlighted the importance of this finding: “This research is important because it suggests that abnormal cell life span could play a key role in the development of melanomas and that agents targeting cell proliferation could be valuable for reducing melanoma growth.”
Iles, meanwhile, emphasised the need for further experiments, “More research is needed to better understand the relationship between melanoma and telomeres, but learning more about how an individual’s genetic telomere profile influences their risk of developing melanoma may help us. It will improve our understanding of melanoma biology and gives us a target towards developing potential treatments as well as potentially helping shape advice on what behavioral changes people might make.”