Focus Areas

The Melanoma Research Program has several specific focus areas of research. Read more about this research.

Melanoma diagnostics

Our investigators are exploring new ways to diagnose melanoma, which could ultimately improve patient care and outcomes.

Work by Thomas J. Flotte, M.D., focuses on developing artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled digital microscopy. Dr. Flotte uses classic hematoxylin and eosin (H&E)-prepared tissue sections to diagnose primary melanoma tumors in the skin.

Alexander Meves, M.D., M.B.A., and Tina J. Hieken, M.D., are working to validate a novel method of predicting the likelihood of sentinel lymph node metastases from primary melanomas in the skin. This work, originally pioneered by Dr. Meves, is in development for clinical use.

Geoffrey B. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., and Matthew S. Block, M.D., Ph.D., are exploring a novel radionuclear tracer for imaging of metastatic melanoma using positron emission tomography (PET) and computerized tomography (CT). The new tracer is being codeveloped with colleagues at the University of Iowa. The tracer is the basis for further radiation therapy efforts that will build on this early diagnostic work.

Dr. Block also is exploring new methods of melanoma prevention using a BRAF-specific melanoma vaccine. He's also studying novel approaches to cancer drug delivery using a nano-immunoconjugate drug delivery platform developed by several members of our team.

Svetomir N. Markovic, M.D., Ph.D., Ruifeng (Ray) Guo, M.D., Ph.D., and Alexey A. Leontovich, Ph.D., are investigating the immune climate of the sentinel lymph node as a predictor of success or failure of postoperative immune therapy for melanoma. Their work, conducted along with Mayo Clinic colleagues, is yielding encouraging results in identifying new targets to treat melanoma.

Preoperative drug therapy for surgically resectable, regionally metastatic melanoma

Drs. Hieken and Block are working on novel approaches to treat early-stage metastatic melanoma. In this approach, anti-melanoma drug therapy is given before and after surgical resection. This new approach has attracted national attention.

Tumor-directed therapy and the immune response

Sean S. Park, M.D., Ph.D., and Jacob J. Orme, M.D., Ph.D., are investigating the role of stereotactic body radiotherapy combined with plasma exchange therapy to overcome melanoma resistance to immune therapy. Radiation therapy is used to generate an endogenous melanoma vaccine. This vaccine in combination with removal of soluble mediators of immune suppression, such as soluble PDL1 from plasma, allows for robust development of new melanoma-specific cancer-killing immune cells.

Robert R. McWilliams, M.D., is leading a clinical trial to evaluate the intratumoral injection of a genetically engineered virus to generate anti-tumor immunity for melanoma. Dr. McWilliams recently completed a national trial of immunotherapy for patients with surgically resected mucosal melanoma, for which results are pending.

Drug therapy for melanoma

Our focus on developing and improving medicine for advanced melanoma continues to grow, with contributions from all our investigators. These researchers include:

In addition, Richard G. Vile, Ph.D., is investigating the sphere of virotherapy in cancer by testing a range of approaches using engineered viruses. Dr. Vile's work also extends into innovative cancer vaccine development and strategies for chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy. Several of Dr. Vile's discoveries are being translated into experimental therapies for patients with advanced melanoma.

Haidong Dong, M.D., Ph.D., has conducted groundbreaking work, including discovery of PDL1 on cancer cells. His work has evolved into the study of tumor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and their biology. His emphasis is on tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and their modification for melanoma therapy.

Arkadiusz Z. Dudek, M.D., Ph.D., an expert in developing phase 1 clinical trials, is focusing on the treatment of metastatic uveal melanoma and TIL therapy.