July 11, 2014

Skin Cancer

Skin Deep

Research is showing promise in treating skin cancer.

Art Levy | 5/1/2007


Dr. Vernon Sondak says immune-stimulating drugs are the next frontier. Photo: Jeffrey Camp

Dr. Vernon Sondak doesn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. Medical researchers aren't working on a melanoma vaccine just so sun fanatics can lie by a pool all day and never have to worry about skin cancer. Rather, the research is focused on treating people who already have melanoma. The goal is to create a vaccine that will spur the immune system to kill the cancer cells -- and there's hope, too, that such a vaccine might also keep the cancer from coming back.

Some research shows promise. For example, Sondak, division chief of cutaneous oncology at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, has been following the progress of ANTI-CTLA4, a drug that's the focus of at least two clinical studies. If it works, the treatment would rev up a melanoma sufferer's immune system, possibly allowing it to selectively kill the cancer.

Skin Cancer Deaths
in Florida

? 557 ( 2002 )
? 628 ( 2003 )
? 626 ( 2004 )

Source: 2006 Florida Statistical Abstract

"Immune-stimulating agents like this will really be the next frontier, but it's going to take awhile," Sondak says. "The analogy I like to make is these drugs take the brakes off the immune system. The immune system inherently is kind of slow to get started and quick to turn off to avoid overreacting. And so there are powerful brake systems in there. We can turn those brakes off now, but what happens to a car that has no brakes? It kind of has a tendency to go out of control, especially if we don't have a steering wheel on that car."

Other promising research includes ongoing work at the University of Florida, where Howard Johnson, an immunology professor at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has developed a vaccine that seems to protect mice from melanoma. It's still to be determined, though, if the vaccine can help people.

Tags: North Central, Healthcare

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