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PanAmerican Society of Pigment Cell Research to hold fundraiser for melanoma research

Metastatic melanoma is one of the most aggressive cancers known to man, said Dr. Sancy Leachman, director of the Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology Program, and associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine.

"It starts to metastasize and spread, when it’s less than one millimeter thick," Leachman told The Park Record. "Right now, only 20 to 25 percent of people who have metastatic melanoma, no matter what intervention is done, will not survive more than five years.

"Comparatively speaking, if you catch a breast cancer that is less than one centimeter in length, that’s an early catch," she said. "If you catch melanoma that late, chances are you will succumb to the disease."

That’s the reason why the PanAmerican Society of Pigment Cell Research (PASPCP) will host a fundraiser, "Making Magic for Melanoma Research" on Sept. 19, from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Astor Ballroom of St. Regis Deer Valley Hotel.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Roger Hanlon, senior scientist and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University. A reception will follow.

Tickets are $100 per person. Proceeds will benefit the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute melanoma and skin cancer program. To RSVP, contact Michelle Judd by Monday, Sept. 17, at (801) 585-9427. Formal attire is required.

Dr. Hanlon will talk about the adaptive coloration, patterning and 3D texture in Octopus Skin, said Leachman, who also treats patients at the Redstone Health Center in Park City.

"He’s been on ‘Nova’ and Science Friday and is known as an exceptional scientist and engaging speaker," she said.

The event will also showcase some of the latest projects dealing with melanoma research and skin cancer prevention.

" doing this, we are hoping to let people know what it will take to continue these projects," Leachman said. "The idea is to get the public to see what we’re doing in trying to raise the bar of how we take care of people in our community.

"Our research program tries to help people prevent it from happening or to catch it as early as possible when it does happen or, when worse comes to worse, provide clinical trials and special therapeutics to be able to treat it if we possibly can," she said.

Funding for skin cancer research, across the board, has hit a crisis.

"There used to be quite a bit of federal funding, but money has dried up," Leachman explained. "(We have) the National Institute of Health grant that we rely on and a part of that is called National Cancer Institute that is important for cancer research. However, that only funds seven percent of the research proposals nationally."

In order to keep the research moving forward, Leachman and her colleagues have to find other sources of support, thus the fundraiser.

"The reason why we decided to hold the fundraiser at this particular time is because we’re bringing in experts for a PASPCR meeting in Salt Lake," Leachman said. "The PASPCR is an organization that was brought together for pigment cell research.

"Pigment cells are the cells that ultimately turn into melanoma," she said. "This particular group of people is made up of national and international experts of understanding how those cells work."

Although the convention is taking place in Salt Lake, Leachman pushed to hold the fundraiser in Park City, because the community has a reputation for being proactive when it comes to fundraisers.

"I wanted the people here to have an opportunity to meet and mingle with these scientists," she said. "Also, nearly all the Huntsman Cancer Institute doctors will be there as well. So, if patients or anyone in the community who wants a chance to speak one-on-one with these people can do that."

Sponsors include St. Regis Deer Valley co-owner Michael Zaccaro and All Resort Express who will provide transportation for reduced rates.

"Their involvement goes to show that people from our community do understand why there is a need for something like this," Leachman said.

Utahns, in particular, are incredibly vulnerable to skin cancer, Leachman said.

"We have many fair-skinned people in our population who like to be outdoors," she explained. "The sun here is incredibly intense, because we’re at a higher altitude, which gives us a higher dose of light per minute.

"Consequently, we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country, and as of the last analysis, among those cancer rates, Utah has the highest melanoma cases in the country, and we want to get to the point to prevent melanoma if possible," she said. "If not, we still want to provide better options for treatment."

The PASPCP will present the "Making Magic for Melanoma Research" fundraiser on Sept. 19, from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Astor Ballroom of St. Regis Deer Valley Hotel. Tickets are $100 per person. Proceeds will benefit the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute melanoma and skin cancer program. To RSVP, contact Michelle Judd by Monday, Sept. 17, (801) 585-9427. Formal attire is required.


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