An mRNA Vaccine Could One Day Protect Against Sun-Induced Skin Cancer

Now this is research we can get behind. Image Credit: Antonio Guillem/

New research suggests an mRNA vaccine could potentially increase protection from damage caused by UV radiation, dramatically reducing melanoma risk.

Following the overwhelming success of mRNA vaccine technology in fighting COVID-19, scientists have begun utilizing the technology to fight a variety of other health conditions. Current vaccines in the pipeline include mRNA vaccines against colon cancer, a potential vaccine against Lyme disease, and even HIV, and the results so far are extremely promising. 

By bolstering the production of a protein involved in the skin’s antioxidant system, a team from Oregon State University College of Pharmacy believes recipients of the vaccine could minimize the risk of UV-induced skin cancer and other conditions.  

“Despite efforts to improve public awareness about the warning signs of melanoma and the dangers of excess exposure to UV radiation, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise,” Arup Indra, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at OSU and lead author, said in a statement

“For more than 40 years researchers have looked at dietary antioxidants as a possible source of inexpensive, low-risk agents for cancer prevention but they have not always performed well in clinical trials and in some cases have actually been harmful – hence the need to try to intervene with new chemoprevention agents such as an mRNA vaccine.” 

The results were published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology

The research focuses on a protein called TR1. TR1 is an important protein within the thioredoxin antioxidant system, thought to help prevent oxidative stress on melanocytes (cells in the skin that produce melanin and are heavily implicated in skin cancer) caused by UV radiation.

The scientists used mouse models to create knockouts for TR1. This means that they removed TR1 from the antioxidant system to understand if it has a role in promoting the protection of melanocytes, examining whether this had an impact on the overall damage caused by UV radiation on the cells. 

When TR1 was removed, there was a significant reduction in melanocyte count and proliferation, and an overall increase in the damage to DNA within melanocytes caused by UV. In conjunction with the role of TR1 in the antioxidant pathway, the data suggests TR1 directly moderates melanocytes, which play an integral role in preventing skin cancer.  

So, if an mRNA vaccine could induce higher levels of TR1, it is possible people could be vaccinated to protect against UV damage. That’s right, we’re talking about an mRNA vaccine against the Sun.  

“Following uptake of the mRNA into the cell and the cell’s machinery going to work, the cell should be at a high antioxidant level and able to take care of oxidative stress and DNA damage arising from ultraviolet radiation,” Indra continued.  

“People at increased risk of skin cancer, such as those who work outside in sunny climates, could ideally be vaccinated once a year.” 

Of course, this is just an early avenue to pursue, and the team has little idea whether it would work just yet. 

“Everything needs to be tested and validated in preclinical models,” he said. 

“We need to generate an mRNA vaccine, have it delivered locally or systematically and then monitor how it boosts the body’s defenses. Clearly we’re at the tip of the iceberg but the possibilities are exciting for preventing different types of disease progression including cancer by modulating the bodies’ antioxidant system.” 


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