A bad sunburn in childhood may make a person more susceptible to developing malignant melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — as an adult, research in mice suggests. The experiments could lead to a better understanding of how and when to protect children from the sun.
The differences between the skin of mice and humans mean that caution is needed in interpreting the results, write Glenn Merlino, of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues in a Brief Communication Nature, Vol. 413, No. 6853, 20 Sep 2001. But the finding mirrors epidemiological studies linking melanoma with short, sharp bursts of sun early in life.
Merlino and his colleagues have created a transgenic mouse in which the distribution of melanocytes — pigment-producing skin cells — is similar to that in human skin. A sunburn-inducing dose of ultraviolet light at 3.5 days of age increases the mice's risk of developing melanoma. At age 6 weeks, the sunburn has no harmful effect.
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