Testing melanoma vaccine at Roswell

Jul 8, 2013

Vaccination is a word usually associated with preventing a disease, measles or polio vaccination. But as WBFO'S  Mike Desmond reports, researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute are testing a vaccine to fight melanoma.

Credit Photo from Roswell Park Website

"The research that we've been doing is sort of building on the idea that for melanoma  immune stimulation is really the way to go," said Dr. John Kane, lead researcher on the grant and chief of the Melanoma/Sarcoma Service in the Surgical Oncology Department at Roswell. 

Dr. Kane said the basic process is a vaccination to pump up the immune system of a patient with the deadly skin cancer.

"There are very few traditional chemotherapies that have been affective in melanoma," said Dr. Kane.

Researchers and surgeons are using a federal grant to treat late stage melanoma skin cancer.

As many as 20 patients will receive the new vaccine to test its safety, mixing what's called a heat-shock protein studied at the cancer center with an antigen, which is supposed to help the immune system beat back the skin tumor.

"One of the ways that we routinely stimulate the  immune system is through vaccination," said Dr. Kane.

Dr.  Kane said it's important because melanoma is a problem for all races.

"It is clearly more common in the Caucasian population. But, for example, African-Americans can get melanoma. It tends to be different variants. So,if you look at what we call acral lentiginous melanoma, palms of the hand, souls of the feet, growing under the fingernails or toe nails, it's the rarest sub-type, but it's the most common sub-type in African-Americans and people of Asian descent," said Dr. Kane.

Dr. Kane said if this three-year trial goes well, there will be more patients treated at other hospitals and the technology might be applied to other cancers.

"All of the new treatments that have been in the news, and the New England Journal, many of them have been immune based," said Dr. Kane.

There's more public awareness of melanoma. It's more visible because it's on the skin surface, so it's often spotted early by victims as well as by doctors.

The National Cancer Institute estimates 77,000 new cases this year and 9,000 deaths.