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Promise and Progress - Solving the Mystery of Melanoma

Sidney Kimmel Gives Hopkins Its Biggest Gift Ever

Solving the Mystery of Melanoma

Date: December 1, 2002

Many people have suspicious moles looked at by a doctor each year. Most of those seeking a medical opinion are wisely making sure the blemish on their skin is not the deadly skin cancer melanoma. But distinguishing between precancerous moles and those that are really early-stage melanoma is often a challenge. “Telling the difference between precancerous moles and early-stage melanoma can be very difficult, and the treatments for these two lesions differ significantly,” explains Rhoda Alani, M.D., assistant professor of oncology, dermatology, molecular biology and genetics. “If it’s melanoma, you want to catch it very early and treat it aggressively by removing as much tissue as possible to cure the disease. If it’s not melanoma, more conservative therapy can be used.”   

The answer to this medical riddle may be close at hand. Alani believes she has discovered a gene that could serve as an early marker for melanoma. The gene is ID1, and if proteins produced by this gene are detected in a mole, chances are it is an early-stage melanoma. The gene leaves its fingerprint when the melanoma is in its early stage, limited to the top layer of the skin.

Melanoma can progress very rapidly and spread to other parts of the body. When this occurs, few people can be cured. If diagnosed in an early stage, however, melanoma can be cured most of the time. Alani hopes that ID1 will serve as a screening marker to facilitate early detection.