Research Projects

The Melanoma Research Lab has multiple research projects within three major research themes geared toward finding novel treatments or drug combinations for patients with metastatic melanoma.

These three research themes are:

  • Understanding immune homeostasis in patients with cancer
  • Developing platform nanomedicines to target toxic agents to tumors
  • Designing novel vaccine strategies and adjuvants

Dr. Markovic and his research team are investigating several ongoing studies and projects.

Comparison between pregnancy and tumor malignancy

Using a systems biology approach, the Melanoma Research Lab is studying immune tolerance and induction of labor during pregnancy to understand immune regulation, which could be applied to metastatic cancer.

Information gathered from this study could be used to generate new therapeutic treatments in oncology.

Mechanisms of nodal metastasis

Dr. Markovic's investigators are interested in studying the mechanisms by which melanoma induces regional immunosuppression prior to clinical evidence of nodal metastasis.

This project integrates both clinical and basic science approaches by utilizing fresh lymphatic tissue from patients and examining secreted melanoma-derived extracellular vesicles in this system for their ability to drive immunosuppression.

By identifying the factors present in the vesicles, which are responsible for mediating this process, the lab hopes to develop novel therapeutic targets to counteract nodal metastasis.

Targeted nanomedicines

Chemotherapy remains a common systemic therapy in all cancer, including melanoma. The major hurdle of chemotherapy is that while killing tumors cells, chemotherapy also destroys healthy tissue.

The goal of Dr. Markovic's targeted nanomedicines project is to find ways to target the chemotherapy agent to the tumor by noncovalently binding therapeutic antibodies, which are specific to proteins expressed by tumors, to chemotherapy agents.

By targeting the drug to the tumor, anti-tumor efficacy is increased while damage to healthy tissue is minimized.

Vaccine development

With increasing use of immunotherapy including anti-PD-1 in the clinical setting, the lab is assessing patient T cell responses before and after PD-1 therapy.

Along with determining T cell receptor usage in patients who respond to PD-1 therapy relative to those who don't respond, the lab plans to do DNA sequencing of tumor samples before and after PD-1 treatment.

By doing these two analyses in conjunction, Dr. Markovic's team hopes to learn what tumor antigens T cells recognize in patients who respond and then use that knowledge to develop new vaccine strategies.