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MDACC Research Grants

2013

AIM Awards $74,450 in Research Grants to
MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC)

AIM and MDACC partnered together in 2013 on our Houston AIM for the Cure Melanoma Walk & Fun Run.  On October 25, AIM presented Dr. Patrick Hwu and the Melanoma Department at MDACC a check for $72,000 to support melanoma research.

AIM partnered with the Houston Petroleum Club to raise funds for MDACC's BRAF Inhibitor Project.  On October 25, AIM presented Dr. Gerald Falchook a check for $2,450 to support this project.

Read below for more info on these projects...

 


Left to right:
  Dr. Jeffrey E. Lee, Dr. Patrick Hwu, Dr. Elizabeth Grimm, Judy Sager, Colleen Leary, MJ Suehs, Dr. Jeffrey Gershenwald, Randy Vidrine

AIM for the CURE Melanoma Walk & Fun Run Research Grant

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is a strong proponent of the development of immunotherapies for cancer patients.  This coupled with the Melanoma Program's high patient volume and dedicated team of melanoma specific clinicians and scientists, has given MDACC the opportunity to develop one of the first Moonshot initiatives to be funded with Drs. Michael Davies (Melanoma Medical Oncology) and Jeffrey Gershenwald (Melanoma Surgical Oncology) as its leaders.  Dr. Elizabeth Grimm (Melanoma Medical Oncology Research) who is also Deputy Division Head for Research Affairs in the Division of Cancer Medicine, accepted the ad interim leadership role of Chief Scientific Officer and Director of MDACCs Moonshot Program in 2013.


Over the past few years Dr. Patrick Hwu has served as one of the leaders who implemented MD Anderson's recently designed "Immunotherapy Platform."  The Platform is a centralized facility within MD Anderson that enables investigator initiated immune therapy clinical trials by performing immune-based assays on patient samples in real-time to provide clinically relevant immunologic results. The Platform exemplifies MD Anderson's institutional commitment to immunotherapies.

Funds from the 2012 AIM for the CURE Melanoma Walk & Fun Run were used to partially fund two staff positions that have provided infrastructure for the Melanoma Moonshot, as well as a Career Development Award for a young physician whose studies are resulting in findings that have potential to offer guidance for mutation-directed treatment for melanoma patients with less common mutation types, who currently lack sufficient targeted therapy options.  Cutaneous melanomas can be divided into three mutually exclusive genetic subsets: tumors with mutated BRAF, tumors with mutated NRAS, and tumors wild type at both loci. Targeted therapy for melanoma has been strongly advancing with agents directed toward mutated BRAF which accounts for 50% of melanoma patients.  However, knowing that other mutation pathways are known to play a role in melanoma development, Dr. Chandrani Chattopadhyay is scouring the melanoma microenvironment focused on determining other targets such as those developed through the association of activated c-Met with NRAS-mutated human melanomas.

Funds from the 2013 AIM for the CURE Melanoma Walk & Fun Run will be used to continue MDACCs efforts to build the infrastructures of the Melanoma Moonshot Program and the Immunotherapy Platform.  MDACC will persist in manning a concerted effort to train young physician scientists who will be the next generation of cancer therapy thought leaders.  MDACCs Melanoma Program offered Career Development funds in 2013, and will review proposals from internal candidates to determine the best use of seed dollars for development of research ideas on the grass roots level.  MDACC will ensure all of their investigators are aware of strong rationales for combining immunotherapy with molecularly targeted drugs.  Some targeted agents have been shown to induce high response rates.  However, these responses are most often transient. By contrast, immunotherapeutic approaches, which generally result in low response rates, can sometimes lead to complete tumor regressions, which in some cases have lasted for many years. Therefore, MDACC feels very strongly that engaging a force of clinicians and scientists to drive the best combinations of these two approaches has true potential to achieve both potent and long-lasting antitumor effects.

With AIM's support, the field's focus has been redirected from simply extending the survival time of patients to that of achieving prolonged, complete antitumor responses.  Now, more than ever before, there exists an opportunity to convert momentum into significant reductions in incidence of mortality.  Further, immunotherapies for patients with advanced solid tumors are now being applied to many other cancer types with the roll out of immunotherapeutic options for lung, breast, and prostate cancers.  Melanoma has, as we had hoped, served as the model system that provided proof of principle for these treatment options.

Left to right:  Dr. Gerald Falchook, Judy Sager, MJ Suehs

BRAF Inhibitor Research Grant

Funds will be used for clinical trials that combine BRAF inhibitors with other agents to enhance the activity of BRAF inhibitor treatment. We now know that mutations in the BRAF gene are present in more than half of all patients with advanced melanoma, and two BRAF inhibitor agents, vemurafenib and dabrafenib, have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of BRAF-mutant melanoma. However, because responses to these BRAF inhibitors last only 6 months on average, better treatments are needed.

 

During the last two years, MDACC has been developing new treatment regimens to use in situations where BRAF inhibitors stop working. These regimens combine a BRAF inhibitor with other targeted drugs or chemotherapy, in order to overcome resistance. These new regimens we are developing are not sponsored by any drug company, and they need funding to keep them available for patients. Most importantly, these new trials have the potential to have immediate impact for patients in clinic, now.

 

AIM's donation will be used to ensure that these clinical trials remain available to melanoma patients.

 

2012

 

Left to right:  Colleen Leary, Dr. Elizabeth Grimm, Jean Schlipmann, Dr. Patrick Hwu, Judy Sager, MJ Suehs, Randy Vidrine

AIM Awards $135,000 Research Grant to
MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC)

AIM and MDACC partnered together in 2012 on our Houston AIM for a CURE Melanoma Walk & Fun Run.

On October 23rd, Judy Sager-AIM Houston Chapter President and Jean Schlipmann-AIM CoFounder presented Dr. Patrick Hwu and the Melanoma Department at MDACC a check for $135,000 to support melanoma research.

Melanoma Medical Oncology Department Chair Patrick Hwu, MD, said the funds will be used to support young investigators doing research in melanoma.  "These very important funds help our scientists identify key biomarkers which aid in the development of new treatments for our patients," said Dr. Hwu.  "We are so fortunate to have access to this funding, as it is key to our mission of finding better treatments for patients with melanoma."

Additionally, funds will be used for Melanoma Informatics, Tissue Resource and Pathology Core, known as MelCore.  MelCore continues to maintain an invaluable prospective database encompassing clinical, pathological, treatment, and follow-up data for MD Anderson melanoma patients.  MelCore also prospectively collects and stores samples of blood and tissue from patients who have given consent for the collection of these samples.  This dual-purpose resource comprises a vital research asset.  It provides MD Anderson's scientific investigators crucial information with which to develop new criteria to assess the risk of relapse and spread of melanoma in patients with early-stage disease, and facilitates the development and evaluation of potential new biomarkers that may be used in the care of future patients.

 

 

 








 Left to right:  Kristin Allen, Dr. Elizabeth Grimm, Dr. Patrick Hwu, Jean Schlipmann, Judy Sager, Randy Vidrine, Denise Clanton, MJ Suehs

2011

AIM Awards $90,000 Research Grant to
MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC)

AIM and MDACC partnered together in 2011 on our Houston AIM for a CURE Melanoma Walk & Fun Run.

On November 22, Judy Sager-AIM Houston Chapter President and Jean Schlipmann-AIM CoFounder presented Dr. Patrick Hwu and the Melanoma Department at MDACC a check for $90,000 to support melanoma research.

MDACC will use this grant to support the ongoing research goals of MelCore.

 

MDACC is one of the largest melanoma care and research centers in the world.  Investigators at MDACC have been critical contributors to the clinical evaluation of many of the new treatments that are showing promising activity.  Research performed by investigators at MDACC has provided insights that have been used to identify new treatment strategies as well as to guide the appropriate management of patients from the time they are diagnosed.

One of the key resources that has led to these advances is the MDACC Melanoma Informatics, Tissue Resource, and Pathology Core, known as MelCoreMelcore was established in 2001 by Dr. Jeffrey Gershenwald, Professor in the Department of Surgical Oncology, and Dr. Victor Prieto, Professor in the Department of Pathology.  More recently, to complement this founding leadership team, Dr. Michael Davies, Assistant Professor in Melanoma Medical Oncology, has also been appointed as a co-director.

Since its inception, MelCore has maintained a prospective database that includes clinical, pathological, treatment, and follow-up data for melanoma patients seen at MDACC.  In addition to establishing this tremendous resource of clinical data, MelCore has also prospectively collected and stored samples of blood and tissue from patients who have given consent for the collection of these materials.

 

As a result of these efforts, MelCore is recognized as one of the largest repositories in the world that integrates melanoma patient clinical data and specimens.  This tremendous resource has provided critical information to develop new criteria to assess the risk of relapse and spread of melanoma in patients with early-stage disease, and has also facilitated the initial development and critical evaluation of potential new biomarkers that may be used in the care of future patients.

 

The rising incidence of melanoma, and the increasing complexity of this disease based on new insights into the molecular heterogeneity of these tumors, make resources like MelCore absolutely critical to the rapid and rational development of new tools and treatments for this potentially aggressive disease.  However, the rising patients numbers and complexity also make the maintenance of such a resource a significant challenge.

 

 

 

Left to Right: Dr. Elizabeth Grimm, Dr. Jeffrey E. Lee, Judy Sager, Jean Schlipmann,
Dr. Patrick Hwu, Dr. Michael Davies

2010

AIM Awards $81,500 Research Grant to
MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC)

AIM and MDACC partnered together in 2010 on our Houston AIM for a CURE Melanoma Walk & Fun Run.

On August 2, Judy Sager-AIM Houston Chapter President and Jean Schlipmann-AIM CoFounder presented Dr. Patrick Hwu and the Melanoma Department at MDACC a check for $81,500 to support melanoma research.

MDACC will use the grant to focus their efforts on tumor collection and database support; molecular analysis to identify therapeutic targets; turning laboratory findings into clinical trials; and providing support for select young investigators to insure the continued development and supply of translational research into the future.

MDACC's combined force of outstanding clinicians and researchers will make every effort to maximize productivity with the ultimate goal of personalized treatments for melanoma patients who have advanced disease.  Our grant will make a powerful impact in their efforts to improve on the development of new therapies for melanoma patients.

MDACC's faculty members have engaged in many discussions concerning the most promising new roads to travel to get to our main objective.  They have identified treatment methods that use cell pathways to turn the immune system on, as well as methods to take off nature's brakes for the immune system.  They have also found that they can target the biology of cells by gaining understanding of the key molecular pathways leading to a patient's cancer growth.

In the coming years, their progress will depend on their ability to analyze baseline patient biopsies in the lab in order to determine what is driving a patient's particular cancer, so they can personalize treatments for the patient.

The pathways (light switches) they have identified which affect melanoma growth will provide the keys needed to halt the advancement of these diseases, by using medicines which shut these pathways down.  There has been successful shutdown of some pathways for some patients, but this shutdown has not always been durable. Gaining a resilient method to eliminate escape routes for cancer cells requires much dedication, combined research efforts, and significant resources.

Specifically, MDACC will utilize this grant to support clinical trial efforts which includes performing novel studies of targeted agents.  Importantly, the money will help MDACC process tissues from patients that link to a database that will allow them to correlate molecular analyses with the clinical outcomes.  In addition, they will utilize a portion of the funds to support research of a promising young investigator to insure  we continue to develop young investigators in the field of melanoma research.