Summer update: Melanoma research progress suggests optimism for future cures

(Philadelphia) In a nation of sun-worshipers, melanoma is on the rise. Although doctors warn their patients to slather on sunscreen and seek cover in the shade, messages about sun safety still compete for the public's attention with magazine covers promoting that supposedly "healthy" tan look. While many other cancers are declining, melanoma the deadliest form of skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. Early melanoma is highly treatable, but there are limited therapies for people with advanced stages of the disease.

At The Wistar Institute, professor Meenhard Herlyn, D.V.M., is taking a broad-based approach to understanding melanoma in order to develop better treatments for people with the disease. Herlyn leads the largest melanoma research laboratory outside the National Institutes of Health, supported in part by a prestigious SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) federal grant, one of only three such awards nationwide.

"We are closer to a cure for melanoma than ever before because we have learned so much in the past few years," Herlyn says. "I'm optimistic that in the not-too-distant future we will be able to offer patients meaningful new treatment options."

An important thrust of Herlyn's research has been to develop artificial skin models in order to study melanoma. Tumors don't exist in isolation but rather interact with other surrounding cells and tissues what scientists call the tumor microenvironment and recent cancer research has focused on studying tumors in this dynamic context. Herlyn's skin models enable him to replicate the steps in melanoma progression. The development of melanoma is complex; while researchers know that UV light triggers melanoma both through laboratory research, including earlier work by Herlyn, as well as statistical associations the precise chain of events leading to tumor development has remained elusive.

In particular, Herlyn's group has been working to understand

Contact: Franklin Hoke
The Wistar Institute

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