In 2005, Dr Keith Cheng’s lab at Penn State University, United States uncovered one of the most pervasive genetic mutations on SLC24A5, the contributor to the light skin color of Europeans. When compared to Africans, Europeans are 10-20 times more susceptible to the deadliest form of skin cancer—melanoma. Despite their similarly light skin color, East Asians have melanoma incidences similar to Africans.
Dr Kai Chung Ang, a Malaysian postdoctoral researcher working at Cheng’s lab and his colleagues will be working on a project to understand this difference. To proceed with this research project, Dr Ang and his colleagues require funds to cover travel costs for their fieldwork. They are currently raising funds from a crowdsourcing website called Microryza and at the time of writing, US$12.1k (81% of their required funding) has been pledged with only 3 days of fund raising left. Given that they will only receive the full funding if they meet 100% or more of their required funding, we hope to raise awareness and help a fellow Malaysian fund his research project.
Some information from Dr Ang’s fundraising page:
Background: The genetic basis of skin color across global populations is an age-old mystery. The dark skin of African populations, the ancestral state in humans, is protective in regions with high solar UV exposure. In contrast, the light skin of Europeans has a selective advantage in northerly latitudes due to higher sun-dependent generation of vitamin D. European skin is associated with a 10-20 fold increased risk of melanoma, (the deadliest form of skin cancer). Surprisingly, East Asians, although light-skinned, have very low risk of melanoma: their rates of disease are comparable to Africans. In addition, they do not carry the pervasive European light skin color genes (SLC24A5 & SLC45A2), which means that they must carry a genetic variation that functions similarly.
Why is this research important?
- To understand melanoma susceptibility and prevention
- For Europeans, melanoma susceptibility is related specifically to lesser melanin in the skin; however, it is yet unclear how East Asians, with similarly lesser melanin, are protected from melanoma.
- Completing the global story of human skin color
- Finding the genetic changes that produce the light skin of East Asians will help understand the genetic basis of variation in human skin color across global populations.
For more information about Dr Ang’s project and how to donate towards his funding, please visit https://www.microryza.com/projects/exploring-an-age-old-question-can-we-demystify-skin-color
- Dr Kai Chung Ang’s Scientific Malaysian profile – http://www.scientificmalaysian.com/scimy/members/khaichung/
- Dr Keith Cheng’s lab website – http://www.pennstatehershey.org/web/pathology/keith-cheng
- Microryza Fundraising website – https://www.microryza.com/projects/exploring-an-age-old-question-can-we-demystify-skin-color
- Study of Tribe Could Help Find East Asian Skin Color Genes – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120828135057.htm