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Founding of the Melanoma Center

Wistar professor Meenhard Herlyn, D.V.M., D.Sc., oversees one of the most prestigious melanoma research programs in the world. The National Cancer Institute has recognized his laboratory as a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in skin cancer, one of only five nationwide. 

Wistar professor Meenhard Herlyn, D.V.M., D.Sc., and his team of researchers are finding ways to detect melanoma sooner and treat it more effectively. Herlyn has developed unique artificial skin models to study the development and progression of melanoma. Tumors interact with other surrounding cells and tissues—the tumor microenvironment—and recent cancer research has focused on studying cancer in this dynamic context. 

Herlyn's laboratory has been working to understand the chemical “conversations” carried on between skin cells. These chemical messages keep cell division and proliferation orderly, and disruptions in them can lead to melanoma. In experiments, Herlyn has found that he can re-establish broken communication between cells, thus restoring control over wayward cell division, a promising discovery that could point the way toward new targets for melanoma therapies. The end result could be thousands of lives saved each year. 

One major discovery in the last year was the identification of stem cells in skin that change into melanocytes –the source of pigmentation in the skin and the cell of origin of melanoma. Identifying these cells, viewing their natural differentiation pathways in the skin, and their migration, will provide the foundation for future work on prevention of melanoma.