Follow CBSPHILLY Facebook  | Twitter

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Two new studies show how age-related skin changes increase the risk of melanoma spreading to vital organs.

The same thing that causes wrinkles is also linked to metastatic melanoma in older adults, according to researchers at The Wistar Institute.

“So it turns out that our skin relies on a network of collagen and elastin, which are two proteins that maintain the structure of our skin,” said Professor Ashani Weeraratna.

Her team also discovered another key protein.

“We identified a factor called HAPLN1, which is a protein that you can basically think of as a knitting needle that binds that collagen and elastin together and that was lost during aging. And what that meant for cancer in general, was that tumor cells that were sitting in the skin, basically bound by this tightly knit network of collagen and elastin, now had some leeway to leave that primary site and spread all over the body,” said Weeraratna.

Contact Lens Wearers Warned Of Rare Infection That Can Cause Blindness

The protein was affecting vessels around the lymph nodes too.

“We found that it was basically corrupting the integrity of those vessels. The tumor cells were able to leak out, when they should have been going directly to the lymph node, they were able to leak out and go to the lungs and the liver and other areas,” said Weeraratna.

But when they injected HAPLN1 into the skin of mice, they were able to restore the tight collagen and elastin network.

“So the idea is that if you could maybe somehow manipulate that protein to knot that collagen and elastin back up again, you could keep those tumor cells trapped and remove them and also maybe you could even reverse aging by affecting wrinkling which would be a nice benefit,” said Weeraratna.

Researchers hope this new discovery will lead to new therapies for melanoma. In fact, The Wistar Institute is currently working with a company to obtain a synthetic version of HAPLN1 to see if it can be used in tumor therapy.