Cell signalling and melanoma skin cancer
About Richard Marais
Professor Richard Marais is Director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute in Manchester. He is an expert in the underlying causes of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. His team is looking at how cells communicate with one another and how faults in these messages can cause this disease, with a particular focus on the BRAF protein.
Cancer develops when cells multiply uncontrollably to form a tumour. The signal to multiply is relayed from outside the cell by a chain of proteins that make up a signalling pathway. The team is studying proteins in one of these pathways to look for faults that could lead to skin cancer.
Watch a short video featuring Professor Marais talking about the discovery that faults in the BRAF gene play a role in many different cancers, including around half of all melanomas. Researchers are now developing drugs to block faulty BRAF, which could lead to powerful new treatments for cancer in the future:
The BRAF protein
Much of their work is focused on a protein called BRAF, which is faulty in more than half of melanoma cases. Professor Marais and his team have been examining the role of BRAF in triggering cancer. Damage to BRAF changes the protein's structure, locking it in an active form that can drive cell growth and ultimately lead to melanoma.
Uncovering the importance of BRAF is a crucial first step toward developing new treatments for melanoma. This vital work has already led to the discovery of potential new drugs being developed and investigated by Professor Marais.
Professor Marais is also analysing the genetic changes that fuel rare types of melanoma, with the hope of finding new ways to treat the disease. This research is part of Cancer Research UK’s Genomics Initiative – a set of groundbreaking projects that are using the latest high-tech gene sequencing machines to track down the genetic faults driving different types of cancer.
These projects will bring us a step closer to more personalised cancer treatment – making sure patients receive the treatments that will work best for them.
Professor Marais was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2008 for his important contribution to understanding how melanoma develops.
Other research projects by Richard Marais
Funding period: 01 June 2011 to 31 May 2014