Research by a 2002 Stratford Academy graduate could lead to new treatment options for melanoma skin cancer.
Kate Appleton is part of a research team that has discovered a chemical compound’s ability to reduce the spread of the disease by 85 to 90 percent.
She’s the co-author of a study with Richard Neubig, professor and chairman of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, that was published in the January issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
Appleton’s family moved often for her father’s job when she was growing up, but she has always considered Macon her home, she said. Her parents spent 10 years there before moving to Richmond, Virginia, and she attended Stratford Academy from seventh through 12th grades.
She wanted to work with Neubig after reading his studies and hearing him speak at MUSC, and she was able to join his lab at Michigan State as a postdoctoral scholar in June 2015. Appleton lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her fiance, Nicolas Skey, and they are getting married March 4.
“Kate came into the lab at a critical point. There were key studies that we needed to get the work published, and she was able to finish them up. She essentially took this project over the goal line,” Neubig said. “She’s careful in her scientific conclusions but very excited about making progress on the project.”
The research focuses on a compound identified in Neubig’s lab before Appleton arrived. Her role was to conduct experiments to better understand how it works.
“I was able to show that this compound effectively stops cells from dividing in addition to stopping the cells from migrating,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to work with a compound where you see positive results.”
The study results showed that the drug compound can block a signaling pathway that increases the likelihood of cancer spreading to other areas of the body.
The American Cancer Society predicts the diagnosis of 87,110 new melanoma cases and 9,730 deaths from that cancer in 2017.
“Most deaths from melanoma occur from spread of the tumor. If that could be prevented, it would have the potential to reduce deaths,” Neubig said in an email. “By knowing a key pathway that leads to metastasis and being able to identify patients who have this pathway activated, physicians could potentially treat only those who would benefit.”
This type of personalized medicine is the future of cancer therapy, Appleton said.
The next steps are to do rodent trials, toxicology studies and drug resistance testing, she said. Since the compound research is still in the early stages, it will probably be two to four years before clinical trails can begin, Neubig said.