New therapy to treat melanoma

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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SAN FRANCISCO, Cali. - With 20 acres of grapes to grow, animals to feed, and grass to cut, Martin Bajuk is a busy man.

"There are always things to do," he said.

However, a recent diagnosis of melanoma threatened to slow down this active 77-year-old. 

"I noticed sort of like a wart" Bajuk explained.

He had three surgeries, but the cancer spread and Martin was running out of options.

"It's a frustrating cancer to treat, and it's also very resistant," said Adil Daud, MD, Medical Oncologist, University of California, San Francisco.

Daud is studying electroporation for advanced melanoma.   He injects a gene–called IL12 into the tumor and uses this device to deliver electricity. The charge opens pores in the tumor so it can absorb the IL12. Then, the body's immune system sends special cells to destroy the cancer.

"Then, once the immune system has done that, there's what's known as memory cells, and so those memory cells circulate around and if they see other melanoma, they will get rid of that too," Daud explained.

In a trial, eight of nine patients saw all or most of their tumors shrink. None reported side effects. One downside—the treatment is painful. Just ask martin.

"It's over 1200 volts of electricity. That is just unbearable," Bajuk said.

However, the pain lasts for just a second and with his cancer in check, Martin can focus on what he loves most, working in the outdoors.

The procedure is given three times over eight days. Each shock lasts only a few milliseconds. Researchers say this therapy would likely be combined with others to see maximum benefits. Five other centers around the country are involved in the electroporation study.

Additional Information:

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens when skin cells are damaged. Typically, this happens when a person subjects themselves to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds. This disease causes skin cells to multiply and form noncancerous (malignant) tumors. Usually, melanomas develop from moles or are mistaken for moles. They have a brown or black color to them, but they may also be blue, purple, skin-colored, pink, red, or white. Melanoma kills 8,790 people a year in the U.S. and it is one of the most under-estimated cancers. (Source:

TYPES: There are four basic types of melanomas that affect the skin. Three of them are less invasive and the other is invasive from the start. Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type. This begins on the surface of the skin, then will infiltrate deeper. Lentigo melanoma is mostly found in the elderly and is very similar to superficial spreading melanoma. When it first develops, it is a tan, brown, or black discoloration and usually lays flat on the skin. Acral lentiginous melanoma also spreads like superficial melanoma, but it surfaces under the nails, palms, or soles of the feet. The last type is Nodular melanoma and this is the most invasive form of the disease. It is very dangerous, and usually forms as a bump that is a blue, black, gray, white, red, or tan color. (Source:

NEW TREATMENT: A new technology is offering hope to patients suffering from metastatic melanoma. It's a combination of genetic engineering and electricity being tested at the University of California, San Francisco. Researchers inject DNA plasma into the area of the melanoma. It is genetically engineered to produce a protein called interluken-12.  Then, they deliver a volt of current into the same area, using a device manufactured by San Diego-based OncoSec. This process is called electroporation.  The electric shock causes the pores in the cancer cells' membrane to open just long enough to allow the plasma to enter.  Once inside, the cells begin producing interluken proteins, which are treated as an alarm signal by the body's immune system, which then attacks the cancer cells. "IL-12 is a very powerful immune-stimulating protein. There was excitement for IL-12 in the 1980s and 1990s, but systemic toxicity prevented further development of it. Since that time, investigators have been trying to deliver IL-12 in creative ways, and this is one example of such an approach," Shailender Bhatia, MD, of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle, was quoted as saying. (Source: and

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