Sunburn Rids Body Of Damaged Cells

By Amir Khan on July 9, 2012 12:33 PM EDT

Sunburn
Researchers investigating what exactly happens to skin when it gets sunburned found that it is a result of damaged RNA, a kind of genetic material (Photo: Creative Commons)

Researchers investigating what exactly happens to skin when it gets sunburned found that it is a result of damaged RNA, a kind of genetic material. The painful red burn is an inflammatory response triggered by the body to remove the radiation-damaged cells, and the findings may lead to treatment for some skin diseases, researchers wrote in a new study, published in the journal Nature Medicine on Sunday.

"For example, diseases like psoriasis are treated by UV [ultraviolet] light, but a big side effect is that this treatment increases the risk of skin cancer," Dr. Richard Gallo, study author and a professor of medicine at UCSD and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, said, according to HealthDay. "Our discovery suggests a way to get the beneficial effects of UV therapy without actually exposing our patients to the harmful UV light. Also, some people have excess sensitivity to UV light, patients with lupus, for example. We are exploring if we can help them by blocking the pathway we discovered."

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Researchers made the discovery while working with human skin cells in a mouse model, and found that UVB rays damages cell RNA. When skin cells are exposed to radiation, the cells release this damaged RNA, which triggers an inflammatory response to remove the cells. This response is causes the painful redness we associate with sunburns.

"The inflammatory response is important to start the process of healing after cell death," Gallo said. "We also believe the inflammatory process may clean up cells with genetic damage before they can become cancer. Of course, this process is imperfect and with more UV exposure, there is more chance of cells becoming cancerous."

However, although researchers worked with human skin cells in mice, it is unclear whether the genes responsible for the inflammatory response remain the same between mice and humans.

"Genetics is closely linked to the ability to defend against UV damage and develop skin cancers," Gallo said. "We know in our mouse genetic models that specific genes will change how the mice get sunburn. Humans have similar genes, but it is not known if people have mutations in these genes that affect their sun response."

UV exposure is a major risk factor for melanoma.  It is much less common than other skin cancers, but is responsible for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths, killing about 48,000 people worldwide annually, according to the World Health Organization.  Melanoma deaths account for $3.5 billion in lost productivity every year, according to the CDC.

n addition to UV exposure, risk factors for melanoma include having many moles or moles that have an abnormal shape or color, fair skin, freckling, and light hair, a family history of melanoma, and having received a severe or blistering sunburn as a child or teen, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is one of the best methods of prevention against melanoma and other kinds of skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wearing sunglasses, hats and seeking shade during midday hours also helps.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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