Uncovering a Connection Between Melanoma-Brain Metastasis and Alzheimer’s Disease

Grantee: Eva Hernando, PhD
Institution: 
New York University School of Medicine in New York City
Area of Study: Cell Structure and Metastasis
Grant Term: 1/1/20 to 12/31/22

The Challenge: In some cases, melanoma can spread, or metastasize, to the brain. Researchers don’t fully understand how melanoma cells travel to and grow in the brain to form new tumors. Currently, there are few treatments available for brain metastasis. 

The Research: While studying a melanoma tumor that had metastasized and formed in the brain, Eva Hernando, PhD, and her team discovered something unexpected. They found unusually high levels of proteins that are related to Alzheimer’s disease, including one called amyloid processing protein (APP).

Normally, APP plays a role in nerve function of many tissues and organs throughout the body. But certain changes that can happen in APP have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Hernando’s team found that APP is also essential for melanoma cells to adapt to the brain.

Hernando is studying:

  • How APP affects melanoma growth in the brain.
  • Whether treatments that focus on APP could work for melanoma in the brain by testing substances in mice that are already being tested in Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Whether brain metastases from other types of cancer, such as lung and breast cancer, need APP to grow. 

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: As soon as Hernando’s team finishes their mice studies, they hope to rapidly start testing it in people who have melanoma brain metastases, since the substances involved have already been through safety testing in humans. If this work is successful, it may change how brain metastases are treated and may improve the outcomes of people with certain types of metastatic tumors.