Melanoma Research Alliance: Focused on Research to Help Fight the Disease

Issue 26 Winter/Spring 2016

Debra and Leon Black

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are on the rise, particularly among young people. When caught early, melanoma is highly curable. However, those with late stage disease have a median life expectancy of less than one year. In the U.S., more than 73,000 will be diagnosed and 9,940 will die from the disease. Despite major advances in reducing incidence and mortality for other cancers, the statistics for melanoma have remained stubbornly high.

After dealing with her own Stage II melanoma diagnosis, Debra Black and her husband, Leon, vowed to do something and founded the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) in 2007. MRA’s mission is to end suffering and death due to melanoma by collaborating with stakeholders to accelerate research, advance cures, and prevent the onset of more melanomas. It is the largest private funder of melanoma research, applying 100% of its donations to help advance research in the field.

With nearly $68 million awarded to research programs around the world, MRA is ranked as a top 5 grant-giving disease foundation by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. An important component of the MRA research program focuses on the understanding of the causes of melanoma to inform prevention strategies, as well as programs to aid in early detection.

With $3.7 million in funding from MRA, researchers are advancing knowledge of melanoma biology and the role of genetic risk factors. There are many unanswered questions about the genetic basis for melanoma risk, development, and progression. Through these projects, researchers have begun to identify genes that could predict an individual’s risk for developing melanoma. Additional research is needed to advance these findings so that in the future, healthcare professionals are better equipped to target high-risk individuals for prevention and early detection measures.

chart listing the signs that a mole is melanoma

Experts continue to emphasize the precautionary actions individuals - regardless of their risk factors – should take to protect themselves against ultraviolet (UV) rays, the largest environmental contributor to melanoma. In addition to avoiding tanning beds and excessive exposure to sunlight, individuals should wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Sunglasses and brimmed hats provide extra protection against direct sunlight.

Many medical professionals believe that skin screening will allow for a reduction in melanoma death rates Through population-wide screening, which is not currently recommended by public health agencies, individuals will be screened for melanoma even if they appear healthy or unaffected in order to facilitate early detection. MRA has funded research to enhance melanoma detection efforts. One specific program, INFORMED, is a web-based training program for primary care providers. It is currently being used for a skin screening program that includes a research component aimed at documenting the benefits and harms of screening – data necessary to determine whether population-wide screening should be conducted. One should also be able to identify five common signs of melanoma when self-examining – the ABCDEs of melanoma.

Besides providing funds for research, MRA maintains active partnerships with public and private organizations to advocate for greater prevention measures. In the public sector, MRA has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to promote policies that restrict use of indoor tanning devices. Additionally, partnerships with organizations such as L’Oréal Paris, Neiman Marcus, and Land’s End have led to an increase in public awareness of melanoma. These initiatives have urged people to protect themselves from the sun, avoid indoor tanning, and be aware of changes in their skin.

According to the CDC, most melanomas could be avoided, making prevention and early detection all the more important.

Learn more about MRA at www.CureMelanoma.org.