The Woiner Foundation directly supports research efforts by John M. Kirkwood, MD, Usher Professor of Medicine, Dermatology and Translational Science and Director, Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).
John’s research has focused upon the analysis of the immunobiology and molecular basis of progression in melanoma for more than 40 years. His studies focused initially upon advanced melanoma, where his team has recently reported advances in the treatment of brain metastasis; he then turned to adjuvant therapy to prevent relapse after surgery, where his work established the first and to date only effective adjuvant therapy known as high-dose interferon.
His current work is focused upon response biomarkers that may refine application of existing and new therapies in the advanced disease setting as well as in the adjuvant therapy of melanoma patients.
John has directed the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program of UPCI since 1986, and the Melanoma Committee of the ECOG-ACRIN National Cooperative Group since 1989. His work at the UPCI has bridged into larger trials conducted in the national cooperative groups for immunotherapies and molecularly targeted agents alone and in combination with one another. The improved benefits of combinations of therapy now bring together treatments using cytokines like IL-2, interferons, antibodies and vaccines where his team’s increasing understanding of the mechanisms of benefit and the biomarkers of effective therapy have followed new treatment designs that are known as neoadjuvant trials where the medical treatments may precede surgery, and have introduced new methods that will accelerate progress from phase I-II early trials into phase III national and international studies that will bring new treatments to FDA approval for more general application.
John’s team has most recently begun to investigate promising new nutritional approaches for patients with a high risk of melanoma, to develop ‘chemoprevention’ for melanoma, and the implementation of screening in the community that may allow melanoma to be detected and treated when the likelihood of relapse and death are lowest.
Statement from Dr. John Kirkwood:
“The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has more than 20 faculty researchers who are focused on melanoma in the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program, and is leading multiple local, national and international studies that are advancing new therapies.
This includes treatments for advanced melanoma that cannot be operated upon surgically for cure; immunotherapies that strengthen the immune response to melanoma that may have been weakened by the signals from the melanoma itself; and chemotherapies that are in common use for other cancers, but have been eclipsed by the dramatic benefits of molecularly targeted therapies and immunotherapies that have emerged from our research in the past two years.
We are leading treatments that are given at or before the time of surgery for patients with melanomas that have features which suggest a higher risk of recurrence despite surgery. Adjuvant therapy with IFN was developed and received FDA approval on the basis of UPCI-led studies.
We are also now pioneering new nutritional therapies with an agent known as sulforaphane that may prevent the march of melanoma from its precursors in the skin.
Finally, we are training, and the support from The Woiner Foundation allows us to bring forward new investigators who are the future of melanoma research, prevention, and treatment. Our trainees are now running melanoma programs from Minnesota and New Hampshire to Indiana, North Carolina, Florida and many other places in the U.S. as well as in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.”