Treating Melanoma with DNA

FRESNO, Calif.

63-year-old Michael Sosnowicz never imagined that something he did when he was his children's age could kill him decades later. Michael spent years in the sun at his family's marina.

"The way I looked at things, you can't hurt superman," Michael Sosnowicz, a melanoma patient, told Ivanhoe.

Thirty years ago, doctors removed a cancerous tumor Michael's leg and told him he was cured.

"Last April or May, I was driving home, and I put my hand on my thigh right next to the excision spot," Michael said. "I felt what I thought was a lipoma, a fatty tumor."

Doctor Lynn Schuchter is a melanoma expert at the University of Pennsylvania. She says the biggest breakthrough in decades may lie within a patient's DNA. Forty percent of the patients with melanoma have a broken gene-called the BRAF gene.

"What's really exciting is that there are new drugs, new inhibitors that target these genes," Lynn Schuchter, M.D., a chief of hematology and oncology at Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said. "They can put the brakes on these rapidly-dividing cells."

In some patients, whose tumors have a broken BRAF gene, the inhibitors even shrink tumors-by 50 percent or more.

"Three days after taking the drug, I wake up on my left-hand side, and I don't have this discomfort in my stomach," Michael said. "I move over to my right, and I don't have it."

Doctor Schuchter says while patients have had tremendous results, eventually, the melanoma cells may become resistant. The next stepis combining the BRAF inhibitor with other therapies, and ultimately find a cure. Hope keeps Michael Sosnowicz strong, hope and his family.

"I want them to be fighters just like me," Michael said.

Now called Vemurafenib, the BRAF inhibitor is still being tested in clinical trials. The FDA is expected to consider it for approval by the end of this year.

If you would like more information, please contact:
University of Pennsylvania Health System
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