Research and Training Grants in Skin Cancer

The American Cancer Society funds scientists and medical professionals who research cancer or train at medical schools, universities, research institutes, and hospitals throughout the United States. We use a rigorous and independent peer review process to select the most innovative research projects to fund.

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Total Skin Cancer Grants in Effect as of August 1, 2018

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Total Skin Cancer Grant Funding in Effect as of August 2018

Spotlight on Skin Cancer Grantees

The following are just a few of the skin cancer investigators currently being funded by the American Cancer Society who are working to find the answers that will save more lives and better prevent, treat, and manage skin cancer.

“Live Imaging” Helps Researchers Understand a Skin Cell’s Natural Resistance to Basal Cell Carcinoma

Grantee: Peggy Myung, MD, PhD
Yale University
Grant Term:
1/1/18 to 12/31/21

The Challenge: The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. One way to treat basal cell carcinoma is with surgery. But that leaves deforming scars and is very expensive. There are also drugs that that target specific cellular pathways, but they cause side effects that keep people from taking them or they stop working well.

The Research: At Yale University, Peggy Myung, MD, PhD, is studying skin cells to learn more about how the cells’ environment instructs normal skin cells to form and stay normal. She and her research team believe this knowledge will help them understand how the cells’ environment influences them once they become cancerous.

Myung and her team are using a technique called live imaging to watch how the skin cells work inside their environment. In the past, the only way to see cells under a microscope was to dye them, which caused the cells to die. Live imaging, though, uses fluorescent stains that allow the cell to be examined while it’s still working. The Myung lab is particularly focused on better understanding the built-in mechanisms cells have for coping with mutations and staying healthy.

The Goal and Potential Long-Term Benefits: Myung’s goal is for her team’s research to inform the development of new, more effective drugs for basal cell carcinoma. Specifically, these new drugs may boost the cell’s natural ability to fend off cancer.

Studying New Treatments for Metastatic Melanoma

Grantee: Jia-Ray Yu, PhD
New York University School of Medicine in New York City
Grant Term: 7/1/17 to 6/30/20

The Challenge: Metastatic melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. People treated with the current targeted drugs tend to eventually stop responding to the drug and have a high chance of the cancer coming back after treatment. And patients don’t usually have a good response to the currently available immunotherapies. 

The Research: New York University School of Medicine in New York City, Jia-Ray Yu, PhD, and his team are looking for new, better treatments for melanoma that has spread. Their focus is on an enzyme complex called EZH2/PRC2. These enzymes change a small protein so that it allows cancer to grow. Yu’s team is testing drugs that block this enzyme complex in mice.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Yu’s short-term goal is to develop a tool to screen for alternative EZH2 inhibitors that may work better than those studied so far. The long-term hope is that their findings will move new treatments further along in preclinical in animals and closer to clinical trials in people to help those with metastatic melanoma.

Identifying New Treatments for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Grantee: Ling Gao, MD, PhD
Institution: Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California
Grant Term: 7/1/17 to 6/30/21

The Challenge: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, but aggressive cancer of the skin. It’s much less common than melanoma, but it is much deadlier. This is partly because about half of the patients find out they have cancer after MCC has already spread. Plus, unfortunately, there aren’t any treatments that specifically and effectively kill MCC without damaging healthy skin. Another problem is the disease is so rare that it’s hard for researchers to find MCC cells to study. Even when MCC is treated it often spreads (metastasizes) to nearby lymph nodes, the brain, bones, liver, or lungs.

The Research: At the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California, Ling Gao, MD, PhD, and her team have successfully retrieved MCC cells from 12 patients. They’ve been able to successfully keep the cells alive and growing in lab dishes for further study. The team is focused on how to use drugs to block a specific part of the cell-communication pathway(PI3K) that helps MCC grow. Using drugs like idelalisib they’re killing MCC cells in lab dishes and also in mice.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Gao hopes these studies will pave the way for clinical trials using one or more drugs that block P13K to help those with MCC.

From Our Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including skin cancer.