Tim Turnham: Hi! I am Tim Turnham with the Melanoma Research Foundation. Today, I am talking about Melanoma, and now I want to focus on the new research that is beginning to offer some hope for people affected by this cancer.
While new therapies hold significant promise, breakthroughs in melanoma have historically been hard to come by, and part this is because of the kinds of cells involved, melanocytes. By their very nature, they are designed to grow and to repair themselves.
In most cancers only about 10% of tumor cells have the ability to form a new tumor, but in melanoma every cell has that ability. In essence, very melanoma cell acts like a stem cell.
The research field for melanoma treatments is exploring a number of new options. These fall into a few large categories, amino therapy, trying to turn on the body's immune system so it can attack the cancer cells.
Some research is focused on creating a vaccine based on a patient's own tumor cells and using that vaccine to stimulate the immune system. Over the years, vaccine approaches have consistently failed to show benefit. But more recently some new studies are showing real promise. The body uses T cells to attack unwanted or dangerous cells.
Melanoma cells use a naturally occurring compound to mask themselves so these T cells can't find them. New drugs are coming into the clinical setting that block the function of that masking compound, revealing the once hidden melanoma cells so they can be destroyed.
Targeted therapy is another approach. This works to shut down the mechanisms that melanoma cells used to grow and divide. About half of people with melanoma exhibit a particular mutation in a gene that's responsible for a compound called B-Raf. This compound is an essential step in the chemical process that cells used to grow. By blocking B-Raf, the growth cycle of tumor cells can be stopped, much like turning off a valve in a pipe.
Dr. Lynn Schuchter: The field is completely changed with the identification of the gene abnormalities in melanoma. So the first time that this was first described is in 2002 has taken us sometime to find the right drug to target this gene, I mentioned B-Raf, but we are in a completely different arena now with melanoma, with these new targeted therapies and with some of these new amino therapies.
So what we have dreamed about in the past is actually a reality today. So what we are doing is with the patient's diagnosis, sampling that melanoma and what the future which is really now is that we will be assessing the mutation profile of a melanoma which genes are broken and then giving the patients these new therapies.
So what we want to see is that these therapies will be useful for more and more patients that will take this in their earlier stages of disease.
So we have concentrated at these new therapies with our patients with stage four melanoma, but ultimately we would take these to patients with stage three melanoma and even earlier.
Tim Turnham: Current drugs are showing very positive results, but in many cases, the results only last for a few months.
Other researchers are looking at similar compounds that are essential and other points along this chemical process. This may help those patients who don't have the B-Raf mutation or those for whom the anti B-Raf drug has stopped working.
The third approach is anti-angiogenesis; stopping the formation of blood vessels that feed nutrients to the cancer cells. This approach has been used effectively in other cancers and researchers are now looking at using some of the drugs on the market to treat melanoma.
All of these approaches show promise, but almost everyone believes that real progress will only be made when two or more drugs are used in combination. For example, combining two or three targeted therapy drugs could prevent the cancer cells from finding alternate growth pathways.
A group of researchers supported by the Melanoma Research Foundation have made these combination therapies come together in clinical trials.
If you want to learn more, checkout our other videos on melanoma, or visit our website melanoma.