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$1.5 million NCI Grant to aid Huntsman Cancer Institute researcher study melanoma, sun damage link

SALT LAKE CITY -- The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator Matt VanBrocklin, Ph.D., more than $1.5 million over the next five years to continue studying the role of a gene called c-KIT in the origin and growth of melanoma, a devastating and sometimes deadly skin cancer. VanBrocklin is an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Utah.

The majority of melanomas have mutations in a gene called BRAF. Mutations in c-KIT have already been identified as the most common cancer-causing event in certain melanoma subtypes that rarely harbor BRAF mutations, including a type of melanoma caused by chronic sun damage. Some clinical trials involving drugs that inhibit c-KIT's action showed good early responses, but tumors soon developed resistance to the drugs.

"Moving forward with melanoma treatments that focus on inhibiting c-KIT will require more research with animal models that faithfully mimic the human disease," said VanBrocklin. "We need to discover more details about how c-KIT works in melanoma tumors and what other genetic factors may be interacting with it as the cancer progresses and spreads to other parts of the body."

VanBrocklin has developed a novel melanoma mouse model that will allow deeper examination of c-KIT's role in melanoma's initiation and progression in living systems. The funding will allow VanBrocklin to continue studies using this mouse model to test whether active c-KIT can initiate melanoma. The research will also examine other genetic factors that could enhance c-KIT's action. The overall goal is to develop new, more effective treatments for patients whose melanoma tumors have c-KIT mutations.


Contact: Linda Aagard
University of Utah Health Sciences

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