Laura Seitz, Deseret News
MaryAnn Gerber has a 6-inch scar on her cheek caused by melanoma. A Utah researcher received a grant to continue studying genes that play into the cause and spread of melanoma, a potentially deadly skin cancer.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah researcher is getting big money to study specific genes that play a role in the cause and spreading of melanoma.

Dr. Matt VanBrocklin, a Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator and assistant professor in the University of Utah's Department of Surgery, received $1.5 million from the National Cancer Institute to continue his research on mutations in c-KIT, already identified as the most common cancer-causing event in certain melanomas, including those caused by chronic sun damage.

VanBrocklin is using mice to track the role of c-KIT and test whether active c-KIT can cause melanoma, a devastating and sometimes deadly skin cancer.

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"We need to discover more details about how c-KIT works in melanoma tumors and what other genetic factors may be interacting with it as the cancer progresses and spreads to other parts of the body," he said. The goal of the ongoing research is to develop new, more effective treatments for patients whose tumors have similar gene mutations.

More than 76,600 people have been diagnosed with melanoma in the United States this year, and the disease has killed more than 9,480 people so far, according to the National Institutes of Health, which presented the grant to VanBrocklin.

— Wendy Leonard