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Researchers seek best defense against melanoma with help from Ann’s Hope

Runners take off from the starting line in the ninth annual Block Melanoma 5K Run/3K Walk held May 19 at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

The founders of Ann’s Hope Foundation, Anne Frentzel and Ann Harrington appear together at the Foundation’s Keel’s Casino Night fundraiser on Feb. 23.

Oct. 17, 2013 College News - Each donation that Ann’s Hope Foundation has provided to Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Cancer Center researchers has brought them one step closer to finding a way to halt the growth of a deadly form of skin cancer.

Collaborators Sam T. Hwang, MD, PhD, Chairman and the Thomas J. Russell Family/Milwaukee Community Dermatologists Professor in Dermatology, and Brian Volkman, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry, are continuing a project that may one day result in new therapeutic agents capable of preventing melanoma from spreading, or metastasizing, in the body. They are supported by a new $75,000 gift from Ann’s Hope Foundation.

This year, more than 75,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma. It is responsible for nearly 10,000 deaths in the United States every year. Metastasis is the reason for the majority of those deaths, in part because existing therapy for metastatic melanoma usually results in partial, rather than complete, responses.

In the last few years, Dr. Hwang and this research team have identified a specific cellular protein, a “chemokine receptor” named CXCR4, that plays a leading role in the growth of melanoma tumors in mice. Blocking this receptor from working may consequently impede the cancer’s growth.

With Dr. Volkman, the researchers developed a new molecule capable of blocking the activity of CXCR4, a protein they call “SDF-1 dimer.” They further generated a version of the protein that does not rapidly degrade in the blood stream, making it a potential candidate for drug development.

Their latest research seeks to determine if the use of SDF-1 dimer in combination with agents already known to enhance immunity against tumor growth results in even greater eradication of metastatic melanoma cells. The study will take place in mice and will look at three different agents with a goal of concluding which works best in conjunction with the newly developed molecule.

“These experiments will give us valuable preliminary data that is needed to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin using SDF-1 dimer either alone or in combination with other FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of patients with uncontrolled metastatic tumors,” Dr. Hwang said.

Such an advance would be welcome news for the founders of Ann’s Hope Foundation, Ann Harrington and Anne Frentzel, who both lost loved ones to melanoma. Since 2005, the Foundation has been raising awareness of melanoma and contributing research funds through a number of Milwaukee-area events. Its primary fundraiser, the Block Melanoma 5K Run/3K Walk and Team Cathy Kids Fun Run, was held in May and will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.

“We had record attendance at the Block Melanoma Run/Walk this year, and it goes to show how many people are committed to defeating this terrible cancer,” said Harrington, President of the Foundation. “Dr. Hwang and the MCW team work diligently and are continuing to bring innovative ideas to this project, which definitely makes us feel like the Foundation is placing its support and trust with the right people.”

To date, Ann’s Hope Foundation has donated approximately $290,000 to the MCW Cancer Center.

“Ann’s Hope Foundation offers a great service to the community. It gets people talking about a disease that doesn’t get enough attention and is in need of more research support,” said Joseph E. Kerschner, MD, Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President of MCW. “We are thankful for the dedication of the Foundation’s members and event participants.”

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Page Updated 10/17/2013