DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Duke Cancer Institute researchers have identified potential biomarkers that could predict resistance to immunotherapies in melanoma. 

The study appears in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when the cells that give the skin its tan or brown color start to grow out of control. It can be very aggressive.

“While our therapies have improved in managing more advanced disease, there’s still significant percentage of patients that are not responding to currently available therapies,” said Brent Hanks, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine and senior author of the study.

Dr. Hanks says that is what prompted the Duke Cancer Institute to study this further.

For some cancer patients, checkpoint inhibitors, which are immunotherapy drugs, can backfire and accelerate the growth of cancer cells. But researchers were able to identify biomarkers that may predict a patient’s risk upfront, potentially benefitting an estimated 10-percent of cancer patients who undergo this complication.

“We’re very excited about what we’ve been able to generate thus far,” Hanks said. “We know that we still need to validate these markers in a larger patient population, but we do feel like that ultimately this is going to be a way of the future in identifying these patients. I think that ultimately that’s going to result in better care of patients and better clinical outcomes.”

Right now, the data is only for melanoma, but Hanks says researchers will also look at how this could benefit patients with other types of tumors.

The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 100,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed by the end of 2022.