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NCI Provides $1.5M for Huntsman Melanoma Mutation Study

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A researcher at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to use a mouse model to study genetic mutations that may be involved in the origin and growth of melanoma.

University of Utah Health Sciences said on Monday that Matt VanBrocklin, an associate professor in the university's Department of Surgery, will use the award to investigate the role of the c-KIT gene in melanoma, and in particular a type of melanoma caused by chronic sun damage.

Some clinical trials have shown that drugs that inhibit c-KIT activity may be useful in treating melanoma, but tumors have developed resistance to these drugs, Huntsman said.

While the majority of melanomas harbor mutations in the BRAF gene, amplification of or alterations in c-KIT have been identified as the most common oncogenic element in melanoma sub-types that are caused by chronic sun damage — subtypes that rarely possess BRAF mutations.

VanBrocklin has developed a melanoma mouse model that his team will use to examine c-KIT's role in the initiation and progression of melanoma, and specifically to test whether active c-KIT can initiate melanoma. The aim is to use this knowledge to develop better treatments for patients who have c-KIT mutations.

"Moving forward with melanoma treatments that focus on inhibiting c-KIT will require more research with animal models that faithfully mimic the human disease," VanBrocklin said in a statement. "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."

The university said additional funding for this project was provided by The Huntsman Foundation.

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