The drug, which is in liquid form, mimics the effect of sunlight on the skin without the sun’s harmful UV rays, tricking the skin into producing a brownish pigmentation of melanin.
So far, according to the study, it has been tested on mixed-gender adult mice and skin samples considered surgical waste.
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The drug bronzes the skin and because it’s all done without UV rays, it could potentially slow the appearance of skin aging.
But the researchers aren’t trying to create the next consumer beauty product.
"Our real goal is a novel strategy for protecting skin from UV radiation and cancer," David Fisher, one of the researchers, told BBC News.
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“Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer - that would be really huge.”
Fisher sees the development and inclusion of this drug as as an ingredient as something that could enhance sunscreen protection and protect against skin cancer.
"There is unequivocal evidence that sunscreens are protective against several types of skin cancer," he told Time Magazine. "But there is also unequivocal evidence that they are not enough. Just look at the data — skin is the most common site of cancer in people despite the embarrassing fact that UV radiation is broadly recognized as a cause in all common forms of skin cancer."
According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while many other cancer rates have declined, skin cancer rates continue to rise.
Nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer in the U.S. every year at an estimated cost of $8.1 billion.
In addition, melanoma causes more deaths than any other type of skin cancer — more than 9,000 deaths each year.
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But the scientists said more research needs to be done to confirm the drug works in people and not just in samples of human skin cells in petri dishes.
Read the full study report.