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- March 12, 2012 at 7:17 pm
The rising number of malignant melanoma cases the past four years at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit illustrates the need for cutting-edge research into some of the most aggressive forms of the still mostly untreatable skin cancer.
But that will change starting this summer as Patricia LoRusso, D.O., director of phase-one clinical trials and the institute's Eisenberg Center for Experimental Therapeutics, begins a three-year, $6 million research project as co-leader of a group of 50 cancer researchers at 12 medical centers who will study BRAF Wild-Type metastatic melanoma.
BRAF Wild-Type is an aggressive form of metastatic melanoma that has fewer treatment options.
More than 70,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year, mostly in older adults, with more than 8,000 deaths annually. Some 50 percent of metastatic melanoma cases are BRAF Wild-Type.
Most metastatic melanoma patients, including those with BRAF, have a median survival rate of six to nine months with a five-year survival rate of less than 20 percent, according to Karmanos. Melanoma accounts for 73 percent of all skin cancer deaths.
"We know that there is a desperate need for treatment for those suffering from the most aggressive forms of the disease … for which there are very few effective treatment options," said LoRusso, who also is professor of oncology at Wayne State University's School of Medicine in Detroit.
While only 150 patients will be studied nationwide at the 12 medical centers, including Karmanos, LoRusso said several other clinical studies on melanoma are in the works at Karmanos.
"Melanoma has always been a tumor type of importance in our clinical program," LoRusso said. "Our melanoma service at Karmanos, led by Dr. Lawrence Flaherty, has been involved in the development of many drugs that are being investigated or have been recently approved for treatment."
With few treatment options, Karmanos researchers and clinicians focus on recruiting patients to clinical trials to test new agents, LoRusso said.
At Karmanos, new malignant melanoma cases have increased 12.6 percent annually to 415 in 2011 from 365 reported in 2008. Over those four years, Karmanos has treated 1,546 malignant melanoma patients, including those with BRAF Wild-Type melanomas.
But LoRusso said the new study — which seeks to treat patients individually based on their genetic makeups — is expected to help develop a better understanding of an aggressive form of the disease.
"We feel that the novel trial design, which incorporates new as well as approved drugs, is not only a paradigm shift in how we treat this disease, but will hopefully improve overall outcomes for our patients," LoRusso said.
For example, medical researchers will conduct personalized medical trials and genomic profiling on patients with BRAF Wild-Type melanoma, she said.
"Our goal is to match the right treatment to the right patient, based on their genetic makeup."
Based on each subject's genetic profile, the trial will evaluate the benefits of personalized therapy.
"(Does it) improve outcomes over the way we currently treat patients?" LoRusso said. "If successful, this personalized approach may not only benefit BRAF Wild-Type metastatic melanoma patients, but could also serve as a model for other types of cancers."
LoRusso said the 50 researchers, who include co-leader Jeffrey Trent, Ph.D., come from backgrounds that include clinical medicine, genomic research, computer science and drug development.
Trent is president and research director at Grand Rapids-based Van Andel Research Institute and theTranslational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix.
"Therapy options for people who have this advanced disease are abysmal," Trent said. "The likelihood of rapid discovery in the traditional path of drug development is very unsatisfying, especially when you have a group of people who have limited hope."
By taking care of patients in the project with individual treatments, Trent said, research time can be reduced dramatically.
In Michigan, research members also include principals Brian Nickoloff, M.D., Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, and Craig Webb, Ph.D., at Van Andel.
The melanoma project is funded by Stand Up to Cancer, the American Association for Cancer Research and the Melanoma Research Alliance.
For more information on upcoming clinical trials, send inquiries to [email protected].
If anyone is in Detroit area…i recommend Dr LaRusso and Karmanos and i recommend them way over Univ of Mich(blah-i had BAD experience there)….It is a good second tier hospital…first tier being of course, sloan kettering, nih, moffitt, anderson…in fact, i am thinking of moving back to Dtown and going to Karmanos…
Tagged: cutaneous melanoma
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