Cancer immunotherapy—Vanguard of precision dermatology and pigment cell research

Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle of each person. Successes in immunotherapy and in the translational arena of melanoma extend to other key areas of dermatology, including vitiligo, melasma, albinism, and other pigmentary diseases. New research published today in five landmark publications by council members of the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies identifies challenges and advances in the treatment, diversity, and diagnosis of major skin disease.

Go to the profile of Fabian V. Filipp
Oct 01, 2018
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The International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies (IFPCS) is a global forum focused on pigment, skin, and melanoma research that embraces diversity. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA

The International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies (IFPCS) is a global forum focused on pigment, skin, and melanoma research that embraces diversity. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA

A panel of experts identifies emerging frontiers in pigment cell and melanoma research

New research published today by council members of the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies (IFPCS), the Pan-American Society for Pigment Cell Research (PASPCR), and the Melanoma Prevention Working Group (MPWG) in landmark articles in Springer Nature Journal of Translational Medicine, Systems Biology, Nature Partner Journal npj Systems Biology and Applications, as well as in the Wiley Journals Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research and Cancer herald the next phase in our battle against skin cancer and pigment disorders.

The panel of experts led by German-American cancer researcher Professor Fabian V. Filipp, comprised a team of scientists at over 30 cancer centers across the world, including the University of California, University of Colorado, Oregon Health & Science University, Yale, Stanford, New York University, Spanish National Center for Biotechnology, Institute Curie, France, University of Queensland, Australia, and the Fujita Health University, Japan.

Breakthroughs in our understanding of how the immune system fights cancer resulted in today's announcement of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for James Allison and Tasuku Honjo who pioneered the field. Malignant melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, has played an important role in our understanding of immune responses to cancer. Early on in immuno-oncology, a surprising finding was made that melanoma regression has been associated with vitiligo, a patchy loss of pigmentation. This finding confirmed an active role of the immune system in cancer, encouraging that tumors would be amenable to immunotherapy.

UV damage of melanocytes gives rise to deadly melanoma

Accelerated by immunotherapy and genomic sequencing, we are just starting to discover the wealth and breadth of the field in melanocyte and melanoma research. The skin-colored pigment in our skin is produced by melanocytes, designed to absorb dangerous UV radiation. A life-threatening form of skin cancer, melanoma, arises, when pigment-producing melanocytes undergo cancerous transformation.

"Diversity, individuality, but also health disparity are fundamental topics rooted in the research, which focuses on melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells of the skin."

Lack of pigment production in albinism patients, patched loss of pigmentation called vitiligo, or on the other end of the spectrum, post-inflammatory- hyperpigmentation called melasma, and prevention of the diseases are on the frontlines of dermatology and pigment cell research featured by today’s cover story entitled Frontiers in pigment cell and melanoma research in the Wiley Journal Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research. The work challenges the field by addressing provoking questions in melanoma immunotherapy, cancer systems biology, medical and surgical oncology, pigment biophysics, and precision prevention of skin diseases like melanoma and albinism. “Diversity, individuality, but also health disparity are fundamental topics rooted in the research, which focuses on melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells of the skin,” said lead author Professor Fabian V. Filipp, of the University of California, Merced.

Launch of the Year of German-American Friendship with a focus on diversity and disease prevention

Today marks not only the release of major research findings, it is also the launch of the international Year of German-American Friendship. The project German-U.S. Science Alliance on Precision Medicine and Cancer Prevention at the University of California is part of the Deutschlandjahr USA 2018/19Year of German-American Friendship. This initiative is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, implemented by the Goethe-Institute, and supported by The Federation of German Industries (BDI).

Ultraviolet rays from the sun can lead to sunburn or can be converted into solar power. Cancer researchers aim for disease prevention for a healthy future of the next generation. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA
Ultraviolet rays from the sun can lead to sunburn or can be converted into solar power. Cancer researchers aim for disease prevention for a healthy future of the next generation. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA

Particular minority groups differ between Europe and the U.S. An important aspect of cultural exchange is to learn about integration, diversity, and ways to overcome prejudice or judgement based on the color of skin, which might be approached very differently in different continents. Scientific contributions are focused on timely aspects of big data science across international boundaries, health care reforms, bioethical consideration of direct-to-consumer diagnostics, health disparity among underserved minorities, and precision medicine based on our individuality.

"Precision dermatology accounts for differences between individuals for a healthy future of a diverse community."

On a campus like the University of California, Merced, which is dedicated to underserved minorities, one encounters an ethnically diverse young generation. Timely yet provocative questions in precision dermatology address imminent needs in clinical care and laboratory research such as inflammation, metabolic and epigenetic adaptation, and immune responses of the skin and it surrounding tissues. “Future efforts in precision dermatology will account for differences between individuals for a healthy future of a diverse community,” Filipp explained.

Our skin represents individuality and diversity. The pigment that gives our skin color is called melanin produced by melanocytes and protects us by absorbs dangerous UV radiation. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA
Our skin represents individuality and diversity. The pigment that gives our skin color is called melanin produced by melanocytes and protects us by absorbs dangerous UV radiation. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA

Collaborative team science as exemplified by the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies acknowledges the molecular foundation of diversity and pigmentation, strengthening global bridges between American and European researchers.

"Collaborative team science strengthens global research bridges."

Across the pond, the University of California, Merced and the Institute of Computational Biology, at the Technical University of Munich, Germany are working closely together on a joint project to develop next-generation technologies of data modeling to facilitate our understanding of genome-wide profiles in tissue aging and upon carcinogenic transformation.

The future of cancer research is focused on preventing the disease in the first place

Now that genomic insights and immunotherapies have led to unprecedented improvement in the overall survival of cancer patients, would it not be the next logical step to extrapolate this knowledge to prevent cancer from happening in the first place?

Primary prevention and early detection are powerful but underutilized strategies to reduce cancer incidence and mortality. To systematically battle skin cancer, the researchers propose a state-of-the-art pipeline to translate the most promising chemoprevention agents for high-risk melanoma patients into the clinic, published today in Cancer, the official journal of the American Cancer Society.

"Primary prevention and early detection are powerful but underutilized strategies to reduce cancer incidence and mortality."

DNA research has provided molecular insights which carcinogens are connected to the formation of cancer. Cancer patients often look back at their lives and would do anything to consciously avoid major causes of cancer by limiting sunburns, poor diet, alcohol, and smoking. Chemoprevention of cancer builds cellular health by strengthening self-repair capabilities and by creating a sustainable chemical environment through nutritional supplements, or drugs. “Our research provides a comprehensive assessment,” Professor Pamela Cassidy and Professor Sancy Leachman at the Oregon Health & Science University stated, “on the clinical management of melanoma in the near term.”

Solidarity of the international pigment cell community with people with albinism

When genetic mutations affect the production of the melanin pigment, people encounter partial or complete loss of pigmentation of their skin, eyes and hair. “Albinism is a rare, genetically inherited condition that has unusually high prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa and some Native American groups” author and President of the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies, Professor Prashiela Manga said. In developing countries, people with albinism may not have access to healthcare specialists, sunscreen, or protective clothes. Sadly, patients with albinism in Africa face a humanitarian crisis stemming from a lack of access to resources and an alarming increase in ritualistic murders of people with albinism. “The united pigment cell community stands in solidarity and supports patients suffering from albinism, leaving a unique footprint in the field of pigment cell biology,” author and federate Secretary Professor Lluis Montoliu, National Centre of Biotechnology, Spain said.

Conference sites of the IFPCS IPCC mapped onto global erythemal index. Severe sunburns triple risk of melanoma skin cancer. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA
Conference sites of the IFPCS IPCC mapped onto global erythemal index. Severe sunburns triple risk of melanoma skin cancer. Images by Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism Laboratory, Fabian V. Filipp. Used with permission. CC BY-NC-SA

An international forum that embraces diversity

By looking back to 75 year of pigment cell research, the International Pigment Cell Conference (IPCC) has been recognized as a major forum to promote worldwide scientific interchange among basic and clinical investigators working on leading-edge aspects of melanocyte biology and disease. “A key realization is that successes in the translational arena of melanoma need to be duplicated in other key areas of pigment cell research, including vitiligo, melasma, albinism, and other pigmentary diseases,” Filipp explained.

For nearly three quarters of a century on a triannual basis, the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies has hosted the International Pigment Cell Conference (IPCC), thereby creating a major vehicle to promote worldwide scientific interchange for basic and clinical investigators who study pigment cell function in disease and development. The federation promotes a vibrant interchange among leading basic and clinical researchers working on leading-edge aspects of melanocyte biology and disease. A synergy of complementary approaches will yield the next breakthroughs and include genomics, epigenomics, biomarkers, systems biology, precision bench-to-bedside approaches, immunotherapy, technology-guided surgery, epidemiology, pigment biophysics, and ancestry research. The international team of authors identified challenges and advances in the treatment, diversity, and diagnosis of major skin disease, published today in the Journal of Translational Medicine. The work also provides an historic perspective of the impact and involvement of research societies around pigmented cells.

"A key realization is that successes in the translational arena of melanoma need to be duplicated in other key areas of pigment cell research, including vitiligo, melasma, albinism, and other pigmentary diseases"

In 2018, for the first time, the Annual meeting of the Pan-American Society for Pigment Cell Research will host a joint conference with the Montagna Symposium on the Biology of the Skin and entitled Melanoma to Vitiligo: The Melanocyte in Biology and Medicine at Gleneden Beach, OR commencing October 17-22, 2018. In 2020, the next International Pigment Cell Conference will be hosted in Yamagata, Japan from July 18-21, 2020 strategically positioned before the opening of the next Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. The title and focus of the XXIV triennial IPCC will be Integration of Basic Science and Clinical Practice in Pigment Cell Biology.

Go to the profile of Fabian V. Filipp

Fabian V. Filipp

Professor for Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism, University of California Merced

Fabian V. Filipp is a professor for Systems Biology and Cancer Metabolism focused on the connection between epigenomic master regulators and their control over central metabolism as an opportunity for diagnosis and treatment of therapy-resistant cancers. In addition to breakthroughs in cancer research, Filipp is dedicated to promoting advanced graduate training and student mentoring. Filipp has developed cutting-edge training courses on cancer systems biology and teaches in metabolic engineering and big data in precision medicine. Collaborative team science includes the U.S. and Germany strengthening international bridges between American and European researchers. The project German-U.S. Science Alliance on Precision Medicine and Cancer Prevention is part of the Deutschlandjahr USA 2018/19—Year of German-American Friendship. This initiative is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, implemented by the Goethe-Institute, and supported by The Federation of German Industries (BDI).

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