Monoclonal antibodies are human-made immune cells used to help the body combat disease. GDF6 monoclonal antibodies target a specific protein involved in cell growth that may offer a new treatment opportunity.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that originates in your melanocytes, the cells that produce skin pigment called melanin. Though less common than some other types of skin cancer, melanoma is more likely to grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer cells spread to locations distant from where they started through a process called metastasis. Metastatic melanoma refers to melanoma that’s advanced and now found in other areas of the body.

Once cancer becomes advanced and multiple systems are affected, treatment becomes more challenging. In an effort to improve metastatic melanoma outcomes, researchers are investigating the role of growth differentiation factor 6 (GDF6) monoclonal antibodies.

GDF6 is a protein made by your GDF6 gene. It’s a part of a family of proteins called bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP), which are involved in regulating different aspects of cell growth and differentiation.

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made immune cells engineered to attach to specific molecules in the body. Once attached, monoclonal antibodies work by blocking the molecule’s effects or by triggering an immune response (or both).

GDF6 monoclonal antibodies are monoclonal antibodies that target the GDF6 protein.

GDF6 monoclonal antibodies may have therapeutic benefits in melanoma due to the potential role of BMP signaling in melanoma growth.

BMP signaling, the communication pathway between BMP and the surface of cells, is involved in many cellular processes, including differentiation, growth, and apoptosis, or natural cell death. Because of the role BMP signaling plays in cell development, unusual BMP activity can contribute to cancer’s progression in a number of ways.

In a study from 2017, researchers discovered the GDF6 gene was overexpressed in melanoma cells. This overexpression created an increase in GDF6 protein, a component of BMP signaling. Higher levels of GDF6 protein led to heightened BMP signaling and turned off the expression of MITF and SOX9 genes, collectively giving melanoma cells embryonic-like properties that promoted growth and survival.

Simply put, in the research, elevated GDF6 protein levels promoted cancer growth.

In addition, study authors noted higher levels of GDF6 in melanoma were associated with poorer survival outcomes.

The role of GDF6 monoclonal antibodies

GDF6 monoclonal antibodies work by binding to existing GDF6 and blocking excessive BMP signaling, shutting down melanoma progression.

Researchers currently working with GDF6 monoclonal antibodies to treat metastatic melanoma indicate that the antibodies have successfully been used in the laboratory to kill melanoma cells, but clinical trials are the necessary next step.

Monoclonal antibodies are a type of immunotherapy, a treatment that modifies or utilizes your existing immune response to fight disease. Several other types of immunotherapies currently exist for melanoma treatment, including:

  • immune checkpoint inhibitors
  • interleukin-2
  • tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy
  • oncolytic virus therapy
  • bacilli Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine
  • imiquimod cream

All of these medications activate your immune system against melanoma via different mechanisms. According to a review from 2021, however, current immunotherapies only achieve long-term survival in approximately 50% of people with metastatic melanoma.

Eventually, GDF6 monoclonal antibodies may be able to complement or enhance current immunotherapy regimes.

No GDF6 monoclonal antibody therapy is yet available to the general public.

Immunotherapies, in general, are aggressive treatments typically reserved for advanced-stage melanomas. Depending on the immunotherapy, severe side effects are possible and administration is closely monitored in a clinical setting.

If you’ve been diagnosed with stage 0 to 2 melanoma, surgery is your first-line treatment option. In these stages, cancer cells are still confined to their original location, though stage 1 and 2 tumors have moved into the deeper layers of the skin.

Stage 3 and 4 melanoma indicate cancer has advanced beyond its original location, with stage 4 indicating metastatic melanoma. Because cancer at these stages has progressed and poses major health risks, more aggressive treatments like immunotherapy become available.

Immunotherapy may also be used when melanoma is recurrent, especially if it returns in areas of the body far from the original site.

GDF6 monoclonal antibodies are a novel immunotherapy that may help in the treatment of metastatic melanoma. By binding to GDF6 protein, the monoclonal antibodies are able to inhibit cancer’s growth and ability to survive.

While there are no current GDF6 monoclonal antibody therapies available to the general public, research is underway to develop these medications. In the future, GDF6 immunotherapy may offer a new way to enhance current treatment models and improve outcomes in metastatic melanoma.