UNC and N.C. State researchers developed a skin patch that can potentially battle melanoma using a melanin-enhanced cancer immunotherapy technique. The team of scientists — led by Zhen Gu, assistant professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC and NCSU — was able to trigger naturally-occurring melanin to boost an immune response against skin cancer cells in mice.
This technique works like a vaccine. A tumor pap made up of ruptured melanoma cells, is filled in a micro-needle patch. When the patch is applied to the skin, the immune system recognizes the lysate as an unwelcome foreign body and triggers an immune response. Therefore, the immune system remembers the melanoma lysate and is prepared for possible future encounters with a similar lysate.
“The importance of this research is that we're able to develop a very simple patch that can be inserted by the patients themselves and we can create a novel form of cancer vaccine,” Yanqi Ye, lead author and doctoral student in the joint biomedical engineering program, said.
The research is still in progress, but the paper has already been published in the journal "Science Immunology."
“Right now we're still experimenting on mice. Our next step is to experiment on a large animal and, if it works, we will further proceed to the clinical trial," Ye said. "And if the process proves to be effective in humans, we could claim that with this vaccine we can decrease the risk of developing melanoma."