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Body tells sunburnt cells: commit suicide

SCIENTISTS HAVE discovered a key step in how the body prevents sunburn from automatically causing skin cancer - it forces cells damaged by the sun to commit suicide.

Scientists at the University of Texas in Houston shone ultraviolet light at two groups of shaved mice, one of which lacked a particular protein that is thought to be linked to cell suicide. Seventy per cent of the protein-deficient mice accumulated potentially cancerous cell mutations in their skin, compared with 5 per cent of themice which had the protein, according to results published today in Science.

The researchers said the results suggest that molecular interactions involving the cell-suicide protein were "pivotal" in the pathway to the growth and spread of sunlight-induced skin tumours.

Dr Tony Quinn, from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's skin tumour laboratory at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, said: "What the research suggests is that if this pathway is disturbed it may be a way that [skin] cancer can occur. It could explain why some people in the population are more at risk from [exposure to] sunlight."