Skin Cancer Research Sparks Results: Spotlight on Our 2020 Grants

Dr. Sherrif IbrahimThe Skin Cancer Foundation

Our three 2020 grants recipients are working on research projects that have the potential to lead to lifesaving breakthroughs.

For almost 40 years, The Skin Cancer Foundation has awarded research grants to encourage innovation in prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Some of those grants kick-started careers for physicians and scientists who became “rock stars” in their fields. Many of them now encourage a new generation of investigators to apply for grants, too.

For the 2020 program, researchers from 26 institutions across the country submitted a bumper crop of applications. They covered exciting new ideas and technologies across the spectrum of skin cancers, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, atypical moles, actinic keratosis and rarer skin cancers.

Committee Chair David Polsky, MD, PhD, assembled a group of world-class volunteer physicians, who passionately debated the merits of the work. They chose projects from three applicants — from California, Tennessee and Washington, DC — that they feel, with the help of our initial funding, have the potential to lead to lifesaving breakthroughs.

Ashley Trenner Research Grant Award

Awardee: Matthew Hangauer, PhD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, UC San Diego, La Jolla, California

What he’s researching: immunotherapy-tolerant melanoma. After immunotherapy for advanced melanoma, many patients respond at first, but then the cancer comes back. Dr. Hangauer’s research will look for ways to target and kill the mysterious, recently discovered cancer cells that seed recurrence, so treatment can work better.

Matthew Hangauer, PhD, with his wife, dermatopathologist Brianne Daniels, DO, and daughter, Hazel, in La Jolla.

The people who helped make this possible: In more than 50 years of marriage, Karen and Bob Trenner have traveled the world and experienced joy and sadness. “We have been fortunate to visit all seven continents, Australia most recently. We’ve met wonderful people, heard their life stories and had the opportunity to share our own, including the premature death of our son, Darin, in 2019, and our daughter, Ashley, in 2013 after a seven-year battle with melanoma. By supporting these research grants, we continue her fight to educate people, and we honor Ashley.”

Karen and Bob Trenner, atop Sydney Harbor Bridge, find joy in world travel and giving back.

Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Research Grant Award

Lee E. Wheless, MD, PhD, with his wife, rheumatologist April Barnado, MD, and daughter, Cecily, enjoying fall weather in Nashville.

Awardee: Lee E. Wheless, MD, PhD, Instructor, Vanderbilt University, Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee

What he’s researching: skin cancer risk in transplant recipients. People who have had an organ transplant are at high risk of skin cancer. Dr. Wheless’ research looks at genetic differences in these patients to learn who is most at risk in order to pave the way for targeted prevention.

The person who helped make this possible: Marcia Robbins-Wilf, EdD, says she loves supporting animal causes. But she also spent many years furthering her career in education, so she has a great interest in helping others do the same. “That’s what makes The Skin Cancer Foundation such a perfect fit, allowing me to help provide funds for young researchers who can make a difference.”

Delighted by a capuchin monkey on a Skin Cancer Foundation educational exchange in Panama, Marcia Robbins-Wilf, EdD, also is thrilled to support the Foundation’s Research Grants program.

Todd Nagel Memorial Research Grant Award

Awardee: Vishal Patel, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Director of Cutaneous Oncology, George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, Washington, DC 

What he’s researching: high-risk squamous cell carcinoma treatment. Cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin (SCC) are rising and can become life-threatening. By forming a multidisciplinary panel of experts to study data, Dr. Patel will work to form a consensus on the most effective treatments for high-risk SCC patients.

Vishal Patel, MD, in 2018 with his wife, dermatologist Ilana DeLuca, MD, PhD, their son, Dillon (then 2), and Lab mix Nala.

The person who helped make this possible: Linda Nagel says, “Since my husband, Todd, passed away from melanoma, I have helped raise money through the Todd Nagel Memorial Golf Open to support skin cancer research and to celebrate Todd’s life. This teaches our son, Ryan, who was just 3 when Todd died, about giving back. I know Todd would be so proud of Ryan, now 16, and excited about this research.” Read Linda and Todd’s story.

Linda Nagel says Ryan “loves golf and cooking, just like his dad.”

We thank our hardworking committee members and our generous donors who make these awards possible each year. We commend these and all dedicated scientists who dream of ending the world’s most common cancer.

The 2020 Skin Cancer Foundation Research Grants Committee

David Polsky, MD, PhD, Committee Chair Alfred W. Kopf, MD, Professor of Dermatologic Oncology, Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City

Suephy C. Chen, MD, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Dermatology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta

Leonard H. Goldberg, MD, DermSurgery Associates, Houston, and Houston Methodist Hospital

Thomas J. Hornyak, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Chairman, Department of Dermatology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore

Mohammed Kashani-Sabet, MD, Medical Director, California Pacific Medical Center and Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, San Francisco

Aleksandar Sekulic, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Vice Chair, Department of Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Arizona, Phoenix

Susan M. Swetter, MD, Director, Pigmented Lesion and Melanoma Program, Stanford University Medical Center and Cancer Institute, Palo Alto

Henry K. Wong, MD, PhD, Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock

Lisa Zaba, MD, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor, Director, Cutaneous Oncology Program, Stanford, South Bay Cancer Center, San Jose

To learn more about The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Research Grants program, visit Skin

Featured in The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal 2020

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