New Molecules ShowPromise in Melanoma and Psoriasis

Dr. Samuel Hwang's lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin

As a physician and cancer researcher, Samuel T. Hwang, MD, PhD, Chair and Thomas J. Russell Family/Milwaukee Community Dermatologists Chair of Dermatology and Professor of Dermatology, knows how important it is that scientists investigate new ways to stop the ability of cancer to spread into new tissues and organs.
“Tumors that grow and spread throughout the body,” Hwang said, “are the leading cause of death for most types of cancer.”
Cancer is a leading cause of death in Wisconsin. The American Cancer Society and Wisconsin Division of Public Health estimated that more than 11,000 Wisconsin residents with cancer died from the disease in 2010.
Stopping or slowing the spread of malignant tumors, known in the medical field as metastasis, may improve the chances of survival and provide a longer window of time for radiation, chemotherapy and other treatments to be utilized.
Dr. Hwang collaborated with Michael Dwinell, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, and Brian Volkman, PhD, professor of biochemistry, to study certain proteins, called chemokines, and their receptors, because both play critical roles in cancer development and metastasis.
By researching these proteins’ role in cancer, the three were able to design and test new molecules that could halt or delay the spread of tumors throughout the body. Dr. Volkman, a structural biochemist, built new, stable molecules used in the experiments to block specific problematic receptors. Dr. Dwinell, a geneticist, developed new rodent models to test the effectiveness of these engineered molecules.
At this stage, the excitement of new discovery is often tempered. Many molecules which show promise in studies of cells in the lab are broken down too fast or fail for any number of reasons when introduced into live models. No matter how influential a finding appears in cell cultures, it must show effectiveness beyond the cellular level to have potential health benefits for people.
In this case, further testing showed that one of the molecules did work in rodent models of melanoma and colon cancer to reduce tumor size and metastasis. As a dermatologist, Dr. Hwang investigated another molecule in studies of psoriasis, and these studies also generated promising results.
The researchers’ findings led to additional funding from community organizations and the National Institutes of Health. These funds will help the researchers study their new molecules further with the vision of one day seeing their results used to help treat those who suffer from cancer and autoimmune diseases like psoriasis.


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