ASU Biodesign Institute conducts cutting-edge melanoma research

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The number of new melanoma cases is up by 50 percent in the last decade, and researchers at ASU’s Biodesign Institute are using nano-robots to fight the aggressive disease.

Christine Nelson was diagnosed with melanoma 30 years ago, and since then the cancer has spread from her neck to her hip and spine. However, due to the new research being done every year, she considers melanoma a chronic disease she has to live with, not a deadly one.

“It’s a very heterogeneous disease,” Nelson’s doctor and Director of Clinical Research Dr. Kasra Karamlou says. “You have folks who have melanoma, and they do really well. Then you have folks who have melanoma, and it’s very aggressive. It can be a very challenging disease to treat.”

Karamlou says standard chemotherapy has not proven effective on melanoma because it’s a disease driven by the immune system. He says the goal of therapy is to identify the spot in the immune system where long-term remission can be induce without the dangers of traditional immune therapies.

ASU Biodesign Institute’s Center for Molecular Design and Biomedics is conducting studies involving nanobots – robots that are one-thousandth the size of a human hair – blocking the blood supply to melanoma tumors causing them to shrink.

The nanobot is decorated with a molecule that can specifically target a biomarker that’s over-expressed in cancer environments. The bot causes a blood clot which shuts off the blood supply to the tumor. Results are seen within just a few days. The studies have only been conducted on mice thus far, and is still a few years away from human trials.

Sunburns and tanning beds are the leading risk factors for melanoma. Doctors advise limiting direct exposure to sunlight and using sunscreen to help prevent melanoma.

Christine Nelson: Melanoma Cancer Survivor
Dr. Kasra Karamlou: Director, Clinical Research
Professor Hao Yan: ASU Biodesign Institute

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