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You’ve heard about skin cancer before—but how much do you really know about it? It’s time to brush up on the basics since May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Here, learn all about melanoma (a form of skin cancer). Then, get the scoop on a group of five women who are doing some pretty groundbreaking melanoma-related research.
What is melanoma? First, the 411: According to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), melanoma of the skin is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States. In fact, the MRA reports that each year, more than 87,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma of the skin. The MRA states that melanoma can be one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer if it is not diagnosed and addressed early in its development. Most cases of melanoma are related to UV-induced damage. The MRA points out that severe sunburns—especially those you may have had at a young age—can also be linked to melanoma.
What else do you need to know about melanoma? MRA also states that you may have a higher risk of developing melanoma if you have a family history of the disease. Per the American Cancer Society (ACS), the average age of those diagnosed with melanoma is 63—however, the ACS states that it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults, especially in young women. According to MRA, almost 10,000 people in the U.S. are expected to die of melanoma in 2017.
How are researchers addressing melanoma? Well, that’s where MRA comes in. The organization, which was founded in 2007, is currently the largest private funder of melanoma research. And, since 2013, L’Oréal Paris USA has donated more than $750,000 to MRA—and will donate another $750,000 in total over the next three years. Recently, L’Oréal Paris USA and the MRA granted a women-led research team the $900,000 L’Oréal Paris USA-MRA Team Science Award for Women in Scientific Research to study melanoma.
The award was given to five women hailing from Spain, the United States, and Scotland who will be working on a three-year project related to melanoma. Their main objective is to define how melanoma develops, with particular emphasis on why, for some patients, this disease progresses to metastasis (the spread of a cancer from one organ to another) very fast—while in other cases, tumor cells can become “dormant” (asleep) for long periods of time. As each woman has specialties in a different area, they hope to be able to make major strides when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma. The team is unique because they utilize the combination of multiple imaging techniques that allows them to follow tumor cells from very early stages of the disease.
Another one of the significant goals of this women-led team? They’d like to mentor and empower new female researchers in the melanoma field.
Keep reading to find out more about the melanoma-related research that each of these five outstanding women is doing as well as how they’re mentoring young female scientists.
Dr. Soengas is the head of the Melanoma Group and dean of academic affairs at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. She is the lead investigator on this project. In addition to her work as a melanoma researcher, Dr. Soengas also participates in national and international panels to address the gender imbalance in the science field. She is also active in promoting women scientists both nationally and internationally and has helped to launch the careers of multiple young women scientists.
Dr. Weeraratna is an associate professor and program leader of the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program at the Wistar Institute as well as a member of the Wistar Institute Melanoma Center in Philadelphia. She is also the founder and chair of the Women in Science Lecture Series at the Society for Melanoma Research meetings. What’s more, she mentors young women scientists by helping to provide speaker opportunities assisting with preparation of grant applications, and more.
Dr. Patton is a program leader within the Medical Research Council Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Along with Dr. Soengas, she co-authored an editorial on ways to help promote the advancement of female scientists.
Dr. Schucter is the chief of the division of Hematology/Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the program leader for the Abramson Cancer Center’s Melanoma Research Program in Philadelphia. And in addition, she mentors young women physician-scientists, creating an environment that is conducive to their success.
Dr. Sosa was recently appointed as an assistant professor at Mount Sinai Department of Pharmacological Sciences in New York City. Much of her previous research has been published in high impact journals.