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A Gene That Shields Our Skin From the Damages of UV Rays

Dr. Chengyu Liang, who joined the Wistar faculty in July 2020, leads an exciting research program that investigates fundamental cellular processes in the context of infectious disease  and cancer, with particular focus on melanoma. 

Her lab studies how a specific gene can protect our skin from the damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation by examining the many functions of the UV radiation resistance associated gene (UVRAG).

Exposure to UV radiation from the sun is a major risk factor for the development of melanoma, as it leads to the accumulation of mutations in our cells. The Liang lab discovered that the UVRAG gene is responsible for promoting repair of the DNA damage caused by UV in skin cells.

Dr. Liang originally identified this gene as a promoter of autophagy — a natural mechanism cells use to digest, remove and recycle unwanted components. Her team then demonstrated UVRAG’s involvement in DNA damage repair and showed that melanoma patients with lower levels of UVRAG tend to have higher amounts of UV-associated mutations in their DNA. 

The team also discovered that UVRAG controls production of the melanin pigment in the skin, which provides a first-line protection against UV radiation and the risk of skin cancer.

The key role played by UVRAG in protecting our skin from UV-induced damage points to this gene as a tumor suppressor in melanoma and a new, promising prognostic and predictive biomarker. 

Further explore the work of the Liang lab in this article by Scientia.