Our Research

Always improving on today’s therapies, the Waldman Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center has assembled some of the leading minds in the field of skin cancer research, who are forging tomorrow’s treatment advances. Our doctors and scientists work hand-in-hand, exchanging clinical insights and laboratory findings to design the best treatment for each patient—and to advance skin cancer care for everyone.

Through basic research and clinical trials, our laboratories and physicians are breaking new ground in a wide range of areas, such as immunotherapy, biologic therapies, the development of early diagnostic tools, and the identification of prognostic markers. Some specific lines of investigation include:

  • Understanding genetic mutations: Melanoma, like other cancers, arises as a consequence of mutations in the DNA. Our researchers are using state-of-the-art approaches to investigate the genetic basis for many forms of melanoma, including uveal melanoma (a rare eye cancer) and acral melanoma (which predominantly affects individuals of color). For example, scientists have identified two genes that are mutated in the majority of cases of uveal melanoma and are studying the impact of these mutations. Our research will provide important information on how melanomas originate.
  • Investigating early disease progression: Our Waldman Center scientists have identified a switch that causes early, low-risk melanomas to acquire aggressive features and become high-risk. Understanding that the spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor to the lymph nodes and beyond happens in the first disease stages, our scientists are investigating the molecular underpinnings of early tumors. Our goal is to develop and deliver drugs early on to prevent tumor cells from spreading to other organs.
  • Pioneering non-invasive care: Our researchers have been conducting groundbreaking work in the area of early melanoma diagnosis and non-disfiguring skin cancer management. Due to their efforts to advance non-invasive care, many cancers, such as basal cell and squamous skin cancers, can be diagnosed with a virtual biopsy and treated the same day without surgical cutting or scarring. Our scientists pioneered the research and use of these approaches, including optical coherence tomography, reflectance confocal microscopy, Fraxel Dual laser treatment, Vbeam Prima pulsed dye, and Nd:YAG laser, as well as blue light photodynamic therapy.
  • Studying epigenetic mechanisms: Our scientists study melanoma development through the lens of the epigenome—the packaging of DNA into a chromatin template. Working to decipher chromatin dynamics in cancer, our studies have identified mechanisms that promote melanoma growth, metastasis, and drug resistance. Importantly, many chromatin factors are mutated or altered in melanoma, allowing insight into how we can treat melanoma with small molecules that regulate chromatin factor function, some of which are FDA-approved for other cancers. Moreover, we study how chromatin factors control the response of melanoma cells to standard-of-care melanoma therapies, such as BRAF inhibitors and immunotherapy.
  • Researching mitochondria: Our researchers are exploring the ways in which mitochondria (the energy producers in cells) influence cancer development, cancer prognosis, and cancer treatment.

The goals of these and many more lines of investigation are to better understand melanoma and to translate that understanding into smarter and more effective therapies to combat this dangerous form of skin cancer.