Skin signal could be key to skin cancer

Student researches skin cancer
Abigail Cline is researching a cell signal implicated in some skin cancers. Cline and Dr. Wendy Bollag, a Georgia Regents University professor, will present their findings at a national conference.



As someone who is fair-skinned, Abigail Cline burns easily in the sun and she preaches the value of sunscreen.

Through a prestigious fellowship, the student at the Medical Col­lege of Georgia at Georgia Re­gents University will study a certain cell signal that could be involved in skin cancer formation
– and potentially ways to stop it.

Cline was awarded an Al­pha Omega Alpha Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fel­low­ship, one of about 50 given this year by the national medical honors society. She will use the money to fund research over the summer, then travel to a national conference to present her results.

Cline is working with Dr. Wen­dy Bollag, a professor of physiology and a longtime skin researcher, while looking at a cell signal called protein kinase D-1. It is involved with proliferation and cell survival, and Bollag recently showed it is activated by ultraviolet B irradiation, which Cline wrote is one of the biggest risk factors for non-melanoma skin cancers.

“The non-melanoma skin cancers, they are much more common than any other cancer,” Bollag said. “But they don’t cause the same sort of death rate because they are treatable, you can cut them out.”

Cline, who is interested in becoming a dermatologist, summarized skin cancer treatment as, “Cut it out. Watch it.” There is a need for better treatments, she said.

Part of her work will involve studying mice who lack the cell signal, comparing them to normal mice, and the impact of chemicals that inhibit it from working. Removing all of the cell signal would leave skin very sensitive to UV damage, so the ultimate goal might be to “tamp it down a little,” Bollag said.

The cell signal is also active in other cancers, such as breast and prostate, and inhibitors are being studied as a potential treatment for other cancers.

“Not only will this research tell us about skin and non-melanoma skin cancer, but maybe also provide us with some additional information about other types of cancer,” she said.

Going into dermatology would allow Cline to continue a love of basic science, which includes a doctorate in biochemistry before medical school.

“You have to have a very good understanding of cellular, molecular biology in order to understand what is going on with a patient,” she said. “It’s a specialty where you can take
a love of science and combine it with a love of medicine and be able to do the two of them together.”

It also concerns Cline personally because she burns easily.

“Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer, and it is actually probably one of the most preventable cancers,” she said.