Yale Professors Find New Way to Fight Melanoma


Tarek Fahmy, Ph D.,
Yale University
The battle against cancerous skin tumors may be won not with new drugs but combinations of existing drugs, according to a new report released by researchers from Yale University in New Haven.
The Yale University scientists have developed a new mechanism for attacking cancerous tumors that intensifies the body’s immune response while simultaneously weakening the tumor’s ability to resist it.
“We believe this is a paradigm-changing immunotherapeutic method for cancer therapy,” said Tarek M. Fahmy, a bioengineer at Yale and the project’s principal investigator. “In essence, it’s a one-two punch strategy that seems to work well for melanoma and may work even better with other cancers.”
The researchers reported their results July 15 online in the journal Nature Materials. Dr. Richard A. Flavell of Yale School of Medicine and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute collaborated on the project. Flavell is also a member of Yale Cancer Center.
Tumors — in this case metastatic melanomas, or spreading skin cancers — are adept at overcoming their host’s natural defenses, in part by emitting agents that disrupt production and operation of the immune system, according to a Yale University news release.
The Yale team developed a new biodegradable nanoparticle that delivers a combination of two very different therapeutic agents to tumor sites, gradually releasing the agents into the tumor vasculature. One agent, a large soluble protein called a cytokine, stimulates the body’s innate immune response. The other, a small-molecule inhibitor, interferes with the tumor’s ability to suppress the immune response. Other drug combinations are possible.
According to an article in the Hartford Courant, “Although awareness of skin cancer has increased considerably in the past few decades, about 70,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2011, and 8,720 people died from advanced melanoma. The American Cancer Society expects both those numbers to go up this year.”
Fahmy told the Courant that melanoma has proven particularly resistant to immunotherapy — a means of fighting cancer by boosting the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells — because the tumor has so many ways of attacking the patient’s immune system.
Photo © Yale University