SALT LAKE CITY -- The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator Matt VanBrocklin, Ph.D., more than $1.5 million over the next five years to continue studying the role of a gene called c-KIT in the origin and growth of melanoma, a devastating and sometimes deadly skin cancer. VanBrocklin is an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Utah.
The majority of melanomas have mutations in a gene called BRAF. Mutations in c-KIT have already been identified as the most common cancer-causing event in certain melanoma subtypes that rarely harbor BRAF mutations, including a type of melanoma caused by chronic sun damage. Some clinical trials involving drugs that inhibit c-KIT's action showed good early responses, but tumors soon developed resistance to the drugs.
"Moving forward with melanoma treatments that focus on inhibiting c-KIT will require more research with animal models that faithfully mimic the human disease," said VanBrocklin. "We need to discover more details about how c-KIT works in melanoma tumors and what other genetic factors may be interacting with it as the cancer progresses and spreads to other parts of the body."
VanBrocklin has developed a novel melanoma mouse model that will allow deeper examination of c-KIT's role in melanoma's initiation and progression in living systems. The funding will allow VanBrocklin to continue studies using this mouse model to test whether active c-KIT can initiate melanoma. The research will also examine other genetic factors that could enhance c-KIT's action. The overall goal is to develop new, more effective treatments for patients whose melanoma tumors have c-KIT mutations.
Funding is provided under the National Institutes of Health NCI Award Number R01CA158316, P30 CA042014, and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
The mission of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at The University of Utah is to understand cancer from its beginnings, to use that knowledge in the creation and improvement of cancer treatments, to relieve the suffering of cancer patients, and to provide education about cancer risk, prevention, and care. HCI is a National Cancer Institute-Designated cancer center, which means that it meets the highest national standards for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is also a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), a not-for-profit alliance of the world's leading cancer centers dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of care provided to patients with cancer. For more information about HCI, please visit http://www.huntsmancancer.org.