Penn State Hershey Medical Center launches Melanoma Center

Melanoma is the leading cause of death from skin disease -- and its rate of occurrence is steadily increasing. In an attempt to fight this trend, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center today announced the formation of the Penn State Hershey Melanoma Center.

The center will build on the Medical Center’s multidisciplinary approach to developing new treatments for melanoma patients. The Melanoma Center will convene researchers and clinicians from dermatology, oncology, pharmacology and other areas with a goal of identifying and evaluating new agents and clinical interventions.

“The Melanoma Center will provide patients with access to physicians from multiple disciplines during a single visit,” said Gavin Robertson, professor of pharmacology, pathology, dermatology and surgery, who also will serve as the new center’s director. "There are fewer than five such centers in the United States," Robertson said.

The Melanoma Center will be located on the third floor of the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute. “The location will give the Center access to a translational research environment that will spur the development of new drugs for melanoma patients,” said Thomas Loughran, professor of medicine and director of the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute. Discoveries developed in the research portion of the Melanoma Center will be tested through a portfolio of clinical trials offered to patients.

The importance of these trials will continue to be highlighted each year at a melanoma mini-symposium and fundraising event. These functions, which are entering their 10th year, are designed to reach out to the public and showcase the research and clinical accomplishments within the Melanoma Center. The center also will host monthly seminars as well as regular research and clinical meetings with a goal of speeding the movement of new treatment discoveries to the clinic.

Researchers at Penn State's College of Medicine have made significant discoveries regarding melanoma. They have identified numerous proteins that play important roles in the development of the disease. The Melanoma Center will build on this work by developing drugs to target these proteins and kill melanoma cells.

In 2009, Robertson and his colleagues identified a drug called ISC-4, based on the anti-cancer compounds found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and kale. The drug produced a response rate of more than 60 percent in mice by inhibiting the abnormally high activity of one particular protein (called Akt3) in melanoma cells. Though still years away from human trials, Robertson envisions a drug that could be used intravenously by melanoma patients, as well as preventively in sunscreen by the general public.

An article on the use of ISC-4 for preventing melanoma development appears in the February edition of Cancer Prevention Research.

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Last Updated February 23, 2011