I recently met with a company called Delcath, which has a procedure designed to combat metastases to the liver. It works by infusing high doses of chemotherapy directly into the liver through the bloodstream. As the blood exits the liver, it is shunted outside the body and run through special filters that remove the majority of the toxic chemotherapy compound. The blood then goes back into the body’s general circulation.
The liver is naturally resistant to toxins and can tolerate higher doses of chemotherapy than other parts of the body, so the liver survives but the tumors are killed. In practice, this procedure has shown some success and has had some issues with side effects. Better filters are now being introduced to help address those problems.
Delcath’s system is up for FDA approval for use in melanoma of the eye. Ocular (or uveal) melanoma represents only about 5% of all melanomas, but has a higher death rate than other forms. About half of patients with ocular melanoma experience metastases, and 90% of the time the metastases are to the liver.
Developing a therapy for liver metastases in ocular melanoma makes a lot of sense. The benefit of a successful therapy will not be limited to this kind of melanoma, however. Patients with cutaneous melanoma sometimes experience liver mets as well. And the liver is a common place for colorectal cancer to spread.
And this is the big message, that progress in one area of study spills over into others. For example, a therapy developed for the rare cancer GIST revolutionized cancer care all together. The targeted therapy advances in melanoma are impacting studies in several other tumor types. Even protocols that don’t work sometimes result in information that enlightens a new and different approach.
Research funding is critical for precisely this reason. Knowledge is rarely wasted. Even when the studies result in unexpected outcomes, the insight gleaned from those studies pave the way for new and better approaches. This basic concept has been proven through the years, and it reinforces the importance of grants the MRF is able to offer. Through the generosity of our donors, we are advancing the knowledge and understanding required to develop new treatments and cures. We don’t always know how the data produced from these grants will impact melanoma patients, but we know it will make a difference.
Can you think of other examples how research on one subject has influenced another? Share here.