“Melanoma in Mexicans has increased by 500% in 30 years, we must study the cause”

Few know that melanoma, or melanoma, which is most common in Mexico, is not caused by ultraviolet radiation, as it does in people of white skin and European genetic ancestry. However, the world’s largest cancer research centers have no priority for studying what might be the specific genetic mutations of Mexicans and Latin Americans that generate cancer cells in the skin.

Faced with this void, Daniela Robles Espinosa, Ph.D. in genomics, decided to return to Mexico in 2015, after having studied and worked for six years at the University of Cambridge and England’s Wellcome Sanger Institute.

“I study a specific type of skin cancer called Acral lentiginous, which is most common in Mexico and is very different from those that arise from exposure to ultraviolet light,” a bioinformatics expert working at the International Laboratory for Research in Human Genomes (LIIGH), from the National Autonomous University of Mexico ( UNAM), in Queretaro.

We still do not know what the genetic or environmental causes of these neoplasms in the skin of Mexicans are. There are three important things we’ve seen so far: First, that in the melanomas we studied in Mexico there are much larger structural changes, that is, very large pieces of DNA are gained or lost. Second, melanomas in Mexico have a few point mutations, a type of mutation most abundant in melanomas caused by UV radiation. Third, we have seen mutations in some driver genes, genes that are generally mutated in cancer, that differ from those in the most studied types of skin cancer,” explains this young Mexican scientist, who pioneered the use of bioinformatics to investigate possible causes of melanoma. .in the population of Mexico.

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In collaboration with researchers from the National Cancer Institute (INCan) and Baguio Regional Hospital Higher Specialty (HRAEB), Robles Espinoza was able to collect tumor samples from nearly 200 patients that can provide very valuable answers about cases of skin cancer in our country. Data from these samples will be compared to the genomes of 6,000 individuals stored in the Mexican Biobank, from the Center for Advanced Research and Studies (Cenvestaf).

Building a career


“Many opportunities in the sciences arise from our ability to build human relationships; from the audacity to ask or write to someone who is a pioneer in your field.” Daniela Robles

“This can help us identify regions of the genome that increase the risk of skin cancer, and during the project we hope to understand why some Mexican patients with melanoma do not respond positively to effective treatments for other types of skin cancer,” Robles says. ..

Invisible cancer.

Skin cancer is the most aggressive type of skin cancer. In Mexico, it is not mentioned much by health authorities because it is estimated to be ranked 21st in frequency among different types of cancer, according to the GOBOCAN Index 202. However, Dr. Daniela shares a fact that should not be overlooked: it is estimated that skin cancer increased by 500 percent among Mexicans in the past 30 years.

“It is important to study its causes. If Acral lenticular melanoma does not arise from excessive exposure to UV rays, there may be other specific risks to our population,” says the third-generation UNAM graduate BSc Genome member.

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Tumors arise from the accumulation of mutations when the DNA of cells is copied. When there are mutations in genes important in controlling cell growth, the cell gets out of control and creates a tumor. So, we can study these mutations that the patient was acquiring, in comparison to the primary genome.”

Genius dynasty.

Originally from San Luis Potosi; father and mother daughter of computer systems engineers; The sister of two engineers dedicated to risk assessment and artificial intelligence, Daniela Robles Espinosa smiles when she says that everyone in her family is an expert at analyzing large databases.

“Since we were young, my dad used to give us challenge books, like math and books about nature and stories. Growing up, I remember when I studied genomics, in Cuernavaca, I talked to my mother, who is in San Luis Potosi, on the phone so she could explain things About programming I didn’t understand her. And there I had her answer questions on the phone,” he recalls in a funny tone of voice.

Many opportunities in science arise from our ability to build human relationships;  It's daring to ask or write to someone who is a leader in your field, points out Daniela Robles.

Many opportunities in science arise from our ability to build human relationships; It’s daring to ask or write to someone who is a leader in your field, points out Daniela Robles.

Isaac Garcia

Integration of non-foreign majors

Since entering high school, Daniela Robles knew she wanted to study a scientific career, but she wasn’t sure if it was for astronomy, mathematics, or any other biology related program. One day, his father showed him an article from the newspaper Reforma where there was talk of the new profession in genomics at UNAM in Cuernavaca. She was very drawn to the idea of ​​joining mathematics, computing, and biology to understand the origin of diseases. It was a tough challenge, as they only accepted groups of 25-40 young men drawn from all over the country. But he stayed in the race.

“I was so excited to study genomics and go live in Cuernavaca; I was excited to go by bus. Already at the race I had doubts about how everything I was studying in biology, chemistry, computing and mathematics, which seemed so far away, was going to come together. I think it became It’s pretty clear to me how it all made sense when we did our first synthetic biology project and we were the first genomics team to compete in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) in Boston, where we won third.” , according.

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