Infectious disease researchers develop basis for experimental melanoma treatment

While investigating a fungus known to cause an infection in people with AIDS, two grantees of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), unexpectedly discovered a potential strategy for treating metastatic melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. The treatment approach, which involves combining an antibody with radiation, has since been further developed and is expected to enter early-stage human clinical studies in 2007.

"This is an excellent example of how scientific research in one discipline may have payoffs in a completely unpredictable way," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "This important AIDS-related research has led to the development of a promising therapeutic strategy for a terrible cancer that affects thousands of people each year."

Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D., of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, in New York City, and his research team began studying the biology of the skin pigment melanin to better understand why its synthesis plays a role in the process whereby certain yeast-like fungi, specifically Cryptococcus neoformans, cause disease in some people. C. neoformans can cause cryptococcosis, a potentially fatal fungal infection that can lead to inflammation of the brain and death in people with AIDS and other immunocompromised individuals.

The researchers created an infection-fighting antibody, known as a monoclonal antibody, that binds to melanin based on scientific evidence suggesting that when melanin is synthesized, it causes the immune system to react in a way that might create antibodies to fend off C. neoformans infection. Based on this finding, Dr. Casadevall theorized that melanomas might contain melanin that would allow the monoclonal antibody to deliver radiation to tumor cells. Dr. Casadevall then teamed with his colleague Ekaterina Dadachova, Ph.D., an expert in nuclear medicine a

Contact: Kathy Stover
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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