Immunology & molecular biology of skin cancer

Professor Gary Halliday, Head

The development of effective strategies to prevent or treat skin cancer is a high priority for Australia. Successful strategies depend on understanding how sunlight affects the skin. Professor Gary Halliday’s research focuses on understanding how ultraviolet radiation suppresses immunity to skin cancer and causes molecular changes to DNA that allow skin cancers to develop. Ultraviolet radiation is the most important cause of cancer in our environment, and is responsible for causing skin cancer in 66 per cent of white-skinned Australians.

Current studies include (1) a clinical trial that targets the molecule c-Jun with a new class of drugs that disrupt molecular signalling from c-Jun (in association with Professor Khachigian from the University of New South Wales), (2) determining the mechanism by which ultraviolet radiation inhibits activation of lymphocytes that kill melanoma cells, (3) determination of the role of a new tumour suppressor gene for skin cancer (called Brm) discovered by Halliday’s group, and (4) understanding how basal keratinocytes, the cell type that gives rise to squamous skin cancer, repairs DNA after it is damaged by ultraviolet radiation.

It is important to understand how ultraviolet radiation causes immunological and genetic changes in the skin that lead to skin cancer as this will result in the development of better procedures to prevent and treat skin cancer. While skin cancer can be prevented by staying out of the sun, and reduced by use of sunscreens, Australians are exposed to the sun during work and recreation and also need sun exposure for adequate Vitamin D production.

By studying the two important biological effects of sunlight on the skin that cause skin cancer (immune and DNA damaging events), the team aims to develop better preventative and therapeutic strategies.

The research team

  • Dr Sabita Rana, Postdoctoral fellow
  • Dr Jane Huang, Postdoctoral fellow
  • Linda Rogers, Research assistant
  • Christa Boehm, Laboratory manager

Featured image

H ras transformed skin cancer cells in culture

H ras transformed skin cancer cells in culture. Cells are stained with green fluorescent protein.peripheral antigens to T cells, a process that is crucial for adaptive immunity.