A skin bacteria - commonly found on healthy human skin - may help protect against skin cancer, scientists say.
"We have identified a strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis, common on healthy human skin, that exerts a selective ability to inhibit the growth of some cancers," said Richard Gallo, professor at University of California San Diego in the US.
"This unique strain of skin bacteria produces a chemical that kills several types of cancer cells but does not appear to be toxic to normal cells," said Gallo.
The team discovered the S epidermidis strain produces the chemical compound 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine (6-HAP).
Mice with S epidermidis on their skin that did not make 6-HAP had many skin tumours after being exposed to cancer-causing ultraviolet rays (UV), but mice with the S epidermidis strain producing 6-HAP did not.
6-HAP is a molecule that impairs the creation of DNA, known as DNA synthesis, and prevents the spread of transformed tumour cells as well as the potential to suppress development of UV-induced skin tumours.
Mice that received intravenous injections of 6-HAP every 48 hours over a two-week period experienced no apparent toxic effects, but when transplanted with melanoma cells, their tumour size was suppressed by more than 50 per cent compared to controls.
"There is increasing evidence that the skin microbiome is an important element of human health. In fact, we previously reported that some bacteria on our skin produce antimicrobial peptides that defend against pathogenic bacteria such as, Staph aureus," said Gallo.
In the case of S epidermidis, it appears to also be adding a layer of protection against some forms of cancer, said Gallo.
Further studies are needed to understand how 6-HAP is produced, if it can be used for prevention of cancer or if loss of 6-HAP increases cancer risk, said Gallo.
More than 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. More than 95 per cent of these are non-melanoma skin cancer, which is typically caused by overexposure to the suns UV rays.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer that starts in the pigment-producing skin cells, called melanocytes.