Melanoma Research Projects
MOON SHOTS PROGRAM
Melanoma Priority Projects
In spite of daunting statistics and challenging societal perceptions about tanning, the potential for reversing melanoma’s troubling incidence, and saving patients’ lives, is possible. The multidisciplinary team of experts of the Melanoma Moon Shot® translates discoveries made in the laboratory to new hope for patients in the clinic. Through the unique, robust infrastructure of MD Anderson, our research efforts are aimed at preventing and treating melanoma through innovative research projects.
To prevent melanoma, we’re focused on impacting three major areas: public policy to reduce UV exposure in youth, youth sun safety education and early detection of melanoma.
Knowing that UV exposure is related to an increased risk of melanoma, and understanding that UV exposure is cumulative over one’s life – our team, in close collaboration with the Cancer Prevention and Control platform within the Moon Shots Program®, is taking a multi-faceted approach to reduce the UV exposure in youth through education and public policy.
The use of tanning of beds before the age of 18 increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 85 percent. By serving as educational advisors to Texas lawmakers, our experts raised awareness of this risk, which led to the statewide ban on tanning bed use for teens under 18 in 2013. This ban has already proven to have a powerful impact on tanning bed use. A 2016 study conducted by our team demonstrated that over 80% of Texas indoor tanning facilities complied with the Texas ban on indoor tanning for those under the age of 18. In 2015, Texas lawmakers, with educational advisement from our team, passed legislation that allowed children in public schools to carry and apply their own sunscreen while at school.
To reduce UV exposure in youth, we’ve developed an engaging, evidence-based curriculum that educates children about the importance of sun-protective behaviors. Preschool, kindergarten and first grade students learn about the importance of sun safety through exciting, superhero-inspired adventures of Ray and the Sunbeatables®. Focus groups have awarded the Sunbeatables Program high marks from students, teachers and parents. Through a dissemination partnership with the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Global Foundation, our sun safety program has reached over 200,000 children across 45 states, the District of Colombia and four countries. To further scale reach, the Sunbeatables Program is available through a digital platform and can be accessed online at no charge.
To build upon the Sunbeatables Program and extend reach and impact on our youth, the Cancer Prevention and Control platform recently teamed up with Scholastic to co-develop Be Sunbeatable®, a sun safety program for 2nd-5th grade students. As a result, MD Anderson has a sun safety suite of curricula spanning preschool through 5th grade.
To catch melanoma early, we’re leveraging Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), which uses telementoring to share expertise with healthcare providers across the globe. We’re collaborating with dermatology resident training programs to train residents how to use dermoscopic photography, a low cost diagnostic tool, to detect malignant lesions such as melanomas. Dermoscopy is a highly portable clinical tool that, in experienced hands, dramatically increases clinical accuracy for diagnosing melanoma. Unfortunately, dermoscopic education is highly variable across dermatology residency programs, and it's a challenging skill set to acquire independently. Our team leverages the Project ECHO platform to share dermoscopic expertise with healthcare providers across the globe. We’re providing telementoring to dermatology and family practice residency programs to optimize dermoscopy-based early melanoma detection. If your residency program may be interested in joining our collaborative, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the last decade, there has been rapid evolution in the therapies used to treat melanoma. For instance, immunotherapy has emerged as a powerful treatment approach that can induce enduring cures for some patients. However, the vast majority of patients will still progress. To overcome this, a deeper understanding of melanoma is needed and additional treatment options must be developed.
Some of the key highlights of our progress include preclinical studies and cutting-edge clinical trials demonstrating that:
- A patient’s gut microbiome may influence how metastatic melanoma patients respond to anti-PD1 checkpoint blockade. A clinical trial examining microbiome modulation during immunotherapy is currently being developed.
- Overcoming the loss of PTEN, via a PI3K inhibitor, may promote a patient’s anti-tumor response when also treated with anti-PD1 checkpoint blockade. This was investigated through a Phase I/II clinical trial.
- Treating patients with a combination of targeted therapies before surgery significantly improves outcomes for resectable stage III melanoma.
- Measuring the immune response early during checkpoint blockade therapy helps predict whether a melanoma patient will benefit from these drugs.
We have many trials such as these, all of which not only leverage what we’ve learned and developed, but also provide insight into the next wave of therapies.