Highlights from the AAD 2013, Miami: Advances in Melanoma

An exciting talk from this year’s American Academy of Dermatology Meeting (AAD 2013) in Miami was the annual Marion B. Sulzberger Memorial Award and Lectureship given by Dr. Hensin Tsao.  Dr. Tsao talked about “Melanoma and Its Metaphors,” drawing parallels between the machinery behind melanoma to the machinery behind cars.  While problems can arise with cars, so can the biological machinery that drives cells to go out of control and develop into melanoma.  Dr. Tsao discussed tumor suppressor and proto-oncogenes.  Likening them to faulty brake systems, Dr. Tsao discussed how tumor suppressor genes are like the brakes in cells, and when messed up, the cell keeps going, dividing out of control.  On the other hand, if the accelerator of the car gets stuck in the down position, the car keeps going as well. Proto-oncogenes, or oncogenes, are accelerators of melanoma.

In the realm of melanoma therapy, we’ve made some great strides in directed therapy.  Among these are the drugs that target a very specific mutation that 60% of melanomas have (the V600E mutation).  These are drugs like vemurafenib and dabrafenib.  Although some of the tumors then find ways around these drugs when given alone, researchers and physicians have then added an additional drug, tramatenib (a MEK inhibitor) to the cocktail.  Two hits against the melanoma!  And there’s even more exciting stuff to come.

In short, in these past few years, we have seen major advances in melanoma therapy and I hope that with the direction we’re going, we’ll be able to put a permanent halt to melanoma!