Research Milestones

Since the event began, more than $1M has been raised to fight skin cancer. Read more about the groundbreaking research funded by MSU Gran Fondo.
  • MSU researchers study compounds that could improve melanoma treatments

    MSU researchers study compounds that could improve melanoma treatments

    In 2021, Richard Neubig,MD, PhD, and his team received a grant to study two compounds that could improve treatment for melanoma. The researchers believe a compound they developed and a second one already approved by the FDA could increase the number of melanoma patients who respond well to a therapeutic called immune checkpoint inhibitors and prevent them from developing resistance to the treatment. 

    Read the full story: MSU researchers study compounds that could improve melanoma treatments

  • New drug combos to prevent melanoma's resistance

    New drug combos to prevent melanoma's resistance

    In 2019, a Michigan State University study led by Sean Misek, PhD, a physiology graduate student in the College of Human Medicine, has found that new drug combinations may prevent melanoma, an often deadly form of skin cancer, from becoming resistant to treatment.

    The study published in Oncogene, one of the world’s leading cancer journals, could help about half of the melanoma patients whose cancer becomes drug resistant. 

    Read the full story: New drug combos may prevent resistance to melanoma treatments

  • Reducing metastatic melanoma

    Reducing metastatic melanoma

    In 2017, Richard Neubig, MD, PhD, received a Gran Fondo grant to continue his study of a combination of drugs that could prevent melanoma from metastasizing. The anti-cancer drug Trametinib is given to treat a common form of melanoma, but the cancer typically becomes resistant to that treatment.

    Neubig’s laboratory tests show that when given in combination with a new compound called CCG-222740, Trametinib becomes much more potent.

    He believes the compound will help restore sensitivity to the treatments that are already approved.

    "We can go beyond blocking metastasis. We can kill the melanoma cells.”
    - Richard Neubig, MD, PhD

  • Is there a link between obesity and skin cancer?

    Is there a link between obesity and skin cancer?

    In 2017, skin cancer researcher Jamie Bernard, PhD, began looking at the association between obesity and an increased risk of skin cancer. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage skin cells, often leading to skin cancer, but in some cases, the damaged cells either die or repair themselves before the cancer develops.

    Bernard suspects that in obese people, particularly those on a high-fat diet, the fat cells in the abdomen secrete a growth factor, causing the damaged skin cells to survive and increasing the risk of skin cancer.

    If borne out by research, the study could lead to a blood test to identify those people most at risk of developing skin cancer, she said.

    “It would allow us to look at the initial stages of cancer development,” Bernard said, and take steps to prevent it or begin treatment in its early stages.

    Read more: MSU Gran Fondo funds promising skin cancer studies

  • A protein to kill melanoma cells

    A protein to kill melanoma cells

    In 2017, Frederik Manfredsson, PhD, received a grant to continue his study using a virus which carries a protein into melanoma cells, causing them to die and preventing the cancer from spreading. While current chemotherapy treatments can slow the spread – or metastasis – of melanoma, in its advanced stages the cancer usually becomes resistant to treatment.

    Working with a colleague at Wayne State University, Manfredsson developed a method to insert a protein into the cancer cells.

    “Essentially, we have a protein that goes to the nucleus and chews up the DNA,” killing the cells and rendering them unable to resist treatment, Manfredsson said. “The data we have so far is very, very encouraging.”

    Note: In 2019, Manfredsson left Michigan State University to accept a position at another institution. We thank him for his years of service at MSU and for his skin cancer research efforts.

  • Promising new drug stops spread of melanoma by 90 percent

    Promising new drug stops spread of melanoma by 90 percent

    In 2017, Michigan State University researchers discovered that a chemical compound, and potential new drug, reduces the spread of melanoma cells by up to 90 percent.

    The man-made, small-molecule drug compound goes after a gene’s ability to produce RNA molecules and certain proteins in melanoma tumors. This gene activity, or transcription process, causes the disease to spread but the compound can shut it down. Up until now, few other compounds of this kind have been able to accomplish this.

    “It’s been a challenge developing small-molecule drugs that can block this gene activity that works as a signaling mechanism known to be important in melanoma progression,” said Richard Neubig, MD, PhD, a pharmacology professor and co-author of the study. “Our chemical compound is actually the same one that we’ve been working on to potentially treat the disease scleroderma, which now we’ve found works effectively on this type of cancer.”

    Read more: Promising new drug stops spread of melanoma by 90 percent

  • Interrupting signaling pathways in melanoma cells

    Interrupting signaling pathways in melanoma cells

    In 2016, Richard Neubig, MD, PhD, and his team's work focused on preventing melanoma cells from spreading.

    “Metastasis is a very complex process,” Neubig said, that begins when cancerous cells migrate into a patient’s blood and eventually spread to other parts of the body. His work was aimed at interrupting a signaling pathway in cancer cells and preventing their migration and, ultimately, metastasis.

    “We’ve identified a pathway that’s very important in melanoma metastasis,” he said, “and we’ve figured out a way to turn off that pathway.”

    Neubig's other research has identified a protein called RhoC that, when activated, is a key in the signaling pathway that causes melanoma, as well as other cancers, to spread. The compound Neubig has discovered helps prevent metastasis by interrupting that pathway and blocking the effects of RhoC.

    About 20 percent of melanoma patients have a mutation in what are known as the Ras genes, which makes their cancer much more difficult to treat. Trametinib is a drug commonly used to treat metastatic melanoma.

    “In many cases, we may get a great response” with Trametinib, Neubig said, “but then the patient relapses. Can we find other compounds that make Trametinib work better?”

    Neubig's future research will explore combinations of drugs that, along with Trametinib, can help the patient avoid becoming drug resistant and, thus, prevent a relapse of melanoma.

  • Two avenues of skin cancer research

    Two avenues of skin cancer research

    Typical of many kinds of cancer, melanoma becomes deadly when it spreads, and even when it responds well to treatment it often returns and becomes drug resistant.

    That is why Richard Neubig, MD, PhD, a professor and chair of the Michigan State University Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, is focusing his research on two promising avenues: one to prevent the often fatal form of skin cancer from metastasizing, and a second to keep it from returning after it goes into remission.

    While his research could lead to better treatments for melanoma, even more important is avoiding it in the first place, he said.

    Anyone can reduce the risk of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer by applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and avoiding the mid-day sun and tanning lamps. It also is important to check the skin regularly for new growths or changes in moles.

    “One of the most significant goals of the MSU Gran Fondo is raising awareness of the importance of early diagnosis,” since that is when it is most treatable, said Neubig. “It also raises money for research and has helped us a lot with our work.”