RPCI Researcher Receives Large Grant Award from the American Cancer Society

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BUFFALO, NY — Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD, an Associate Professor in the Department of Cell Stress Biology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), has been awarded a $750,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to develop new pharmaceutical agents to treat malignant melanoma, one of the most serious and aggressive forms of cancer.

Malignant melanoma represents less than 5% of all skin cancers, but accounts for more than 65% of skin cancer deaths. Although surgical intervention in the earliest stages of the disease increases one’s chances of a positive outcome, lifetime risk and mortality rates have been steadily — and significantly — rising for decades. In fact, the average survival rate for malignant melanoma is 8.5 months.

“It has become a matter of urgency to develop effective, more targeted treatment regimens for malignant melanoma,” said Dr. Nikiforov, whose research focuses on the expression and inhibition of the cancer gene (oncogene) C-MYC.

C-MYC is a member of the MYC family of transcription factors, which regulate the expression of multiple genes involved in many cellular processes. C-MYC produces a DNA binding protein that has been implicated in the growth of tumor cells. In several laboratory studies, including those conducted by Dr. Nikiforov and his research team, elevated expression of C-MYC has been associated with advanced stages of melanoma. Recently, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, have found that inhibiting C-MYC expression in laboratory models eradicates tumors with minimal side effects.

Building upon and applying the results of these important studies, Dr. Nikiforov and his team have identified several promising C-MYC inhibitors that disrupt the growth of human melanoma tumors in laboratory models. These scientific studies, he explains, “are the first step toward introducing into the clinical setting new and effective pharmaceutical agents that will either eradicate melanoma or effectively sensitize the tumor to respond to conventional chemotherapy.” Even though C-MYC is the most commonly expressed protein in human cancer, it has never been targeted for testing in clinical studies.

“Currently, there is no effective therapy available for malignant melanoma,” said Dr. Nikiforov. “The American Cancer Society grant will facilitate the development of safe and effective agents that target C-MYC.”

Dr. Nikiforov also envisions a wider application of this research: “We may one day apply what we’ve learned to the management and treatment of other C-MYC cancers, such as those of the colon and breast and neuroblastomas.”

The American Cancer Society is the nationwide, community-based, voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy, and service. For more information, visit the ACS website at http://www.cancer.org.

The mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. RPCI, founded in 1898, was one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit RPCI’s website at http://www.roswellpark.org, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or email askrpci@roswellpark.org.

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Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager
716-845-8593; annie.deck-miller@roswellpark.org