Research funded by Ann’s Hope Foundation shows promise for blocking melanoma growth
Nov. 15, 2012 College News - A Medical College of Wisconsin dermatologist studying new agents to stop the spread of melanoma has received a $75,000 donation from Ann’s Hope Foundation to advance his research.
The investigator, Sam T. Hwang, MD, PhD, Chairman and the Thomas J. Russell Family/Milwaukee Community Dermatologists Professor in Dermatology, has partnered with Ann’s Hope previously while pursuing this line of research, and the resultant findings portend promise for this approach to treating the disease.
Melanoma is an aggressive type of skin cancer whose propensity to metastasize, or spread to other tissues and vital organs, makes it particularly dangerous. More than 9,000 deaths are estimated to occur annually in the United States due to metastatic melanoma.
“Treatments for melanoma exist, but the success rates are not nearly high enough,” said Joseph E. Kerschner, MD, Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President. “Through support from Ann’s Hope Foundation, Dr. Hwang and his team are making discoveries that could serve as the basis for the next generation of melanoma therapies.”
Cellular proteins called chemokine receptors play a critical role in tumor growth and metastasis. Dr. Hwang’s prior research has shown that a particular chemokine receptor named CXCR4 facilitates the outgrowth of melanoma cells in mice. Identifying a way to block, or inhibit, CXCR4 is the subject of ongoing investigation in his laboratory.
In close collaboration with Brian Volkman, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry, Dr. Hwang and his colleagues performed experiments with a new molecule capable of blocking the growth of melanoma cells. In both published and preliminary data, they additionally show that the molecule is stable in the bloodstream, which makes it potentially viable as a future drug.
“One of our key findings is that our compound seems to strongly reduce local invasion of melanoma cells in established tumors, suggesting it has promise to prevent local progression in patients with metastatic disease,” Dr. Hwang said. “We are highly encouraged by these results and with refined data will eventually seek FDA approval for use of the compound either alone or in combination with existing immunotherapies in patients with this cancer.”
The research was presented in May at the annual meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology, and a related paper was recently published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
Based in southeast Wisconsin, Ann’s Hope Foundation has been raising awareness and funding for melanoma research since 2005. Its founders, Anne Frentzel and Ann Harrington, both lost family members to the disease.
“We think a combination of increased awareness and innovative research is the key to preventing deaths caused by melanoma,” said Ann Harrington. “In a relatively short time, Dr. Hwang has made advances in research that encourage us to believe that better therapies may be on the horizon. We are very fortunate to have groundbreaking research that we can fund right here at the Medical College of Wisconsin.”
The Foundation coordinates a series of events to support its cause, including the signature Block Melanoma 5k Run/3k Walk and Team Cathy Kids Fun Run, which will celebrate its ninth year in the spring of 2013.
About 2,400 runners and walkers participated in the eighth annual Block Melanoma 5k Run/3k Walk and Team Cathy Kids Fun Run that Ann’s Hope Foundation held in May at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Ann Harrington (left) and Anne Frentzel are the founders of Ann’s Hope Foundation.