University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI)

Overview

Research in the UPCI Melanoma Program (MP) focuses on gaining new insights into the central molecular events that fuel the development and progression of melanoma, and bringing more effective, less toxic, and increasingly personalized therapy to melanoma patients to improve outcomes in the advanced and adjuvant settings. The MP is also working to increase prevention rates to decrease the likelihood of developing melanoma, and to promote early detection to increase the likelihood of survival and cure for melanoma patients.

Since 1985, UPCI's MP has demonstrated a commitment to advancing melanoma research and developing innovative and effective therapies for melanoma patients. Recognizing the importance of a multidisciplinary team approach to understanding and treating cancer, the MP draws from the expertise of its diverse members and from those of other UPCI programs. As one of the leading international centers for translational studies of melanoma, the UPCI MP contributes to an active dialogue among cancer center melanoma programs across the country and around the globe, leading to increased insights into melanoma biology and improved treatment.

MP members' expertise in the molecular biology and immunology of melanoma informs the design and implementation of translational studies, which use insights from the laboratory to develop and test increasingly personalized and more effective, less toxic treatments for patients in the clinic. Research in the MP is driven by a commitment and determination to identify barriers to the success of current treatment approaches and to the creation of new therapies and combinations to overcome these barriers.

For example, MP members pursue studies that provide critical insights into key genes and proteins that drive melanoma inception and progression, which has led to the development and application of novel immunotherapies, molecularly targeted therapies, and combinations of therapy for patients with advanced or high-risk disease. Through important translational research, UPCI's MP has made significant contributions to the design of improved methods of prevention and detection, and more effective melanoma treatment in local-regional, national, and international clinical trials.

The research agenda and pivotal phase II and III studies of national cooperative groups have built upon the innovative work of the UPCI's MP. The MP designed the current phase III intergroup adjuvant trial and made it a central focus of inter-SPORE collaborations among national SPOREs in Skin Cancer. The translational corollary investigation of the mechanism of autoimmunity and anti-tumor immunity induced by adjuvant interferon (IFN), as well as the peptide vaccine trials of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG), have resulted from MP phase I and II trials, which have been driven by its members to advance therapies that improve the quality of life and increase overall survival of melanoma patients.

The major areas of scientific investigation of the program are:

  • Identification and functional analysis of genes contributing to melanoma initiation and progression
  • Development and application of multiple new immunogenic melanoma vaccines
  • Identification of novel biomarkers for prognosis and prediction of response to therapy
  • Development of novel combinations of immunological, molecularly targeted, and chemotherapeutic agents for melanoma