Skin Cancer

In 2008, Markus Frank, MD, of Children’s Hospital Boston and an affiliate member of the Stem Cell Program at Children's, published a study that links ABCB5, a protein that protects cells, to mutant stem cells that help melanomas grow. Targeting this protein in mouse models of skin cancer caused the mutant stem cells to die, making the melanomas easier to treat.

In 2010, Frank published new research that says skin cancer stem cells may actually trick the immune system into leaving the cancer cells alone and allowing the tumors to metastasize.

Richard White, MD, PhD, and Leonard Zon, MD, of Children’s study melanoma cells in fish that are specially bred to be transparent. These see-through fish allow researchers to see how and why melanoma cells metastasize, or spread, creating a deadly cancer. The see-through fish also allow researchers to observe how blood stem cells migrate and settle permanently at their correct targets after transplantation, an important step in making sure a transplant succeeds. The Zon lab’s work with zebrafish resulted in the publication of two papers in Nature in March 2011. Read more here.

These are a few examples of why it’s important to study the concept of “cancer stem cells,” the idea that cancer grows and perpetuates out of stem cells that have gone off course.

Recently, Dr. Zon used the zebrafish model to show that the first event in melanoma formation is the reprogramming of melanocytes to neural crest. The neural crest is a stem cell population that normally gives rise to melanocytes. Dr. Zon has a reporter fish that fluoresces green in the first cell of a developing cancer.



  • Skin cancer at Children’s

    To learn more about spotting the signs of skin cancer, and how Children’s Hospital Boston can help, please visit My Child Has Skin Cancer.

  • To learn about Markus Frank’s latest

    To learn about Markus Frank’s latest findings on skin cancer stem cells and three molecules they produce to dampen the immune system, check out this news release. To learn about Markus Frank’s 2008 study on how skin cancer stem cells protect themselves, check out this news release.

  • Richard White’s work with zebrafish

    Click here to read more about Richard White’s work with zebrafish and melanoma stem cells (picture of see-through fish included)

  • Cancer stem cells

    Cancer stem cells are stem cells gone off course, allowing cancer to grow and perpetuate itself, often in spite of treatment. To read about cancer stem cells, check out this feature article.