Scientists in Cornwall grow human skin to fight cancer
Scientists in Cornwall are working to grow human skin to better understand how one of the most deadly forms of cancer spreads.
It will be the first time skin has been grown specifically to tackle malignant melanoma carcinoma – a cancer which can start off as an innocent-looking mole.
The pioneering research is being carried out at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter's Tremough campus near Penryn.
Often in cancer research programmes single cells are studied. However, scientists at the centre believe a better route is examining clusters of cells in contact with each other, the way they naturally lie in the body.
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Scientists at the centre said they have already worked out a 3D model of the cells using samples taken from cancerous human skin. The next step is to get permission and access to fresh and continual supply of human skin left over from surgery.
Dr James Allen said the project could help to identify people at risk from malignant melanoma carcinoma.
He said: "What we want to know is how something like a mole can end up killing you.
"We want to be able to diagnose more effectively and understand how the cancer cells break-away from each other to form other tumours in the body.
"We can then hopefully start to create treatments or certainly diagnostic procedures which can identify people at risk more quickly and improve survival rates.
"We hope to use the model to try and better understand how melanoma can spread throughout the body, which is why it's so dangerous.
"It spreads quite quickly and readily."
Before the next step in the project can be taken the rigorous process of obtaining
permission to have access to a continual supply of skin left over from operations has to be completed.
He said: At the moment we're waiting to get ethical approval to start using skin left over from surgery to begin growing the skin.
"It could take between 6 – 12 months but once we've been cleared we could see results reasonably quickly."
Eventually the skin grown will measure a couple of millimetres by a couple of millimetres.
Dr Allen's research chimes with figures from Cancer Research which indicate the number of cases of malignant melanoma skin cancers in Cornwall is higher than the UK average.
Figures from the South West Public Health Observatory revealed the county had 31 cases of malignant melanoma per 100,000 people between 2006 and 2008, while the average in England for the same period was 15.6 cases.
Dr Allen said the outdoor lifestyle so many residents enjoy in the county could play a part in the number of cases.
He said: "While exposure to the sun could well be a factor the truth is we really don't know for sure what's to blame."