A revolutionary formula with the power to prevent skin cancer, repair sun damage and tan skin is one step closer to market thanks to a $65,000 gift from Melanoma Know More (MKM), a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
“The gift from Melanoma Know More is a godsend. It’s going to allow our team to generate preliminary data that will allow us to test our agent in a clinical trial,” said Zalfa Abdel-Malek, PhD, a professor in University of Cincinnati’s department of Dermatology and leader of the research team responsible for the agent. “Hopefully with the data we collect, I can then seek long-term funding from the NIH (National Institutes of Health) to move forward with our melanoma prevention plan.”
MKM’s gift creates The Zalfa Abdel-Malek Melanoma Research Fund, which will allow other members of the community to support her team’s work.
“It’s clear that as treatments advance and change, it’s important to support efforts in the community,” said Leanne Marie Blair, executive director at MKM. “Dr. Abdel-Malek and her lab are on the cutting edge of change, and if we can make even a small impact on their work, that is extremely important and has the potential for global results.”
In 2006, Abdel-Malek and her team were given $1 million from the National Cancer Institute to develop a topical treatment that would not only make skin tan but would also work to block harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and repair damage caused by sun exposure, which could lead to skin cancer.
Initial research conducted in collaboration with James Knittel, PhD, a former faculty member at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy, and Leonid Koikov, PhD, then a postdoctoral fellow, focused on the chemical modification of a hormone called alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH). Researchers were able to reduce alpha-MSH from 13 amino acids to four and then three to enhance its ability to target pigment-producing cells. Abdel-Malek’s lab team found that not only did the alpha-MSH and these novel small derivatives increase skin pigmentation, but also repaired pre-cancerous damage from UV rays.
“The topical agent Zalfa and her team are working on essentially reverses the effects of sun exposure on DNA,” said Susan Kindel, MD, a member of the MKM research committee that awarded the funds to Abdel-Malek and her lab. “Because about 95 percent of melanoma are due to sun exposure, this is incredibly important. It was a no-brainer providing the funding to Zalfa, who is nationally recognized for her work.”
Abdel-Malek, who is also a member of the UC Cancer Institute and Cincinnati Cancer Center, hopes the treatment will be available to the public before she retires. Until then, there’s work to do.
“We’re moving ahead,” said Abdel-Malek. “As we generate more pre-clinical data, we can move forward with clinical trials. Because melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and its incidence is increasing faster than any other type of cancer, our research is more important now than ever before to prevent this disease.”