Cancer Immunotherapy Uses Melanin Against Melanoma

Source: North Carolina State University

Summary: Based on early experiments done in a mouse model, researchers have developed a melanin-enhanced cancer immunotherapy technique which is applied via a transdermal patch.

Melanoma is a skin cancer which results from uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells, melanocytes. The pigment inside the melanocytes is called melanin that has the ability to convert 99.9% of absorbed sunlight energy into heat. Researchers from North Carolina State University, based on early experiments done in a mouse model, they have developed a melanin-enhanced cancer immunotherapy technique which is applied via a transdermal patch. This can also serve a vaccine. They demonstrated that in melanoma, high levels of melanin is found and that can actually be used to help treat melanoma. This is done by shining near IR (Infrared) light on therapeutic skin patch that promotes a systemic immune response which fights cancer. The research findings were published in the journal Science Immunology.

Melanoma Treated with Melanin via transdermal patch

Diagram of the melanoma vaccine patch that targets antigen-presenting cells (APCs) directly via delivery of tumor lysates combined with melanin. Credit: Ye et al., North Carolina State University; Science Immunology.

The fundamental concept of the study is to train the body’s immune system to respond to the presence of melanoma cells. This novel technique begins with a lysate – a tumor mash made up of melanoma cells. The lysate is filled into microneedles, embedded in a polymeric transdermal patch. When the patch is applied to the skin, the local heat causes a fever-like environment in the skin and helps the release of lysate from the microneedles. This triggers an immune response which allows the immune system to ‘remember’ the melanoma lysate and leads to enhanced anti-tumor vaccination. Collectively, melanin generates local heat, promotes immune system activities by transdermal vaccines, and encourages anti-tumor Immune responses.

Assoc. Prof. Zhen Gu said, “These results are encouraging, but we are in the early stages of development”, “The next step would be a large animal study to further evaluate the safety and efficacy of the technique. And while it is much too early to estimate cost, we think that the treatment could be scaled up and would be affordable.”

More Information: Yanqi Ye et al, “A melanin-mediated cancer immunotherapy patch”, Science Immunology (2017). … 6/sciimmunol.aan5692

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