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New Study Looks At Sensitivity To Sun

A project designed to try and explain the way genes influence sensitivity to sun is underway at the University of Edinburgh. The study will look not only at the role of ultraviolet radiation in causing skin cancer, but at its benefits in treating of patients with psoriasis, eczema and a range of other skin conditions.
Professor of Dermatology Jonathan Rees, and colleagues from Medical Physics, will collaborate with Professor Brian Diffey from Medical Physics at Newcastle University to study volunteers and family members. The team will investigate the way genes might determine how susceptible people are to the sun, and increase the efficiency of the phototherapy treatments used for patients with different skin conditions. The volunteers will be healthy people of different skin colours, who do not object to being irradiated on a few occasions. Some volunteers would also undergo small skin biopsies.
Professor Rees said: " This project seeks to build on our previous work, in which we have identified genes that underpin variation in susceptibility to ultraviolet radiation. For instance, people with red hair are, on average, much more sensitive than those people with dark hair. We know, however, that many people without red hair, also carry copies of certain alleles (alternative forms of a specified gene) that make them sensitive to the sun."
He added: "An important purpose of the research is to look at the different ways skin can protect against irradiation. For instance, when you are exposed to the sun, not only is there a change in pigmentation but the skin becomes slightly thicker. If the skin goes brown, there is a difference in the wavelengths of light that are absorbed. If you get skin thickening, although more light will be absorbed, there will be a different wavelength shift from that due to brownness. Based on different spectral properties of the various elements of skin, we hope to be able to distinguish these two physiological defence mechanisms and determine their relative importance.
"Even a red head, if they lie on the beach long enough, will gradually protect themselves against the sun- they just can't do it as efficiently as people with more brown pigment. The goal of the research is not only to explain genetic influences on variation in sun sensitivity but also to explain the different mechanisms that might be operating."

University of Edinburgh. April 2002.

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