Office of Institutional Advancement

Metastatic Uveal Melanoma Video Challenge

Ted Popp

Ted Popp

The word melanoma is unlikely to make people think of their eyes. Yet uveal melanoma is one of the most dangerous eye cancers in adults because it fails to respond to conventional chemotherapy, and the disease returns and metastasizes in half of all cases in which the primary tumor was successfully treated.

Takami Sato, MD, PhD, the K. Hasumi Professor of Medical Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson, has dedicated his career to finding new ways to treat metastatic uveal melanoma. In collaboration with physicians from Wills Eye Hospital; Jefferson’s Interventional Radiology Division, led by David Eschelman, MD ’86, and Carin Gonsalves, MD; Renee Zalinski, Senior Care Coordinator; and the uveal melanoma team, Dr. Sato has translated research into clinical therapies that extend lives. He has also partnered with Andrew Aplin, PhD, Deputy Director of Basic Science at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, to investigate new avenues for treatment.

To promote awareness of metastatic uveal melanoma and support research in the Uveal Melanoma Program, last year Jefferson produced a video that featured two patients and donors, Terry Willoughby and Ted Popp, Jr. The video presented a challenge to viewers: if they collectively contributed $200,000 between October 15 and December 31, 2014, an anonymous donor would match the total.

Audiences rose beyond the challenge, and the resulting $500,000 is providing a year’s worth of funding for two major research projects. Nearly 90 percent of gifts that came in during the challenge were from first-time Jefferson donors—and the video continues to draw funds even though the challenge has ended.

One of the video challenge donors, Bjornar Hermansen, went even further by contributing a significant additional gift specifically to fund Dr. Sato’s efforts to boost the immune system’s ability to fight metastatic uveal melanoma. Dr. Sato is exploring the ability of a type of immune cell known for its tumor-killing powers—called natural killer (NK) cells—to destroy liver metastases (the most common kind of uveal melanoma metastases). By infusing NK cells into the hepatic artery after they’ve been modified to express a “search light” to detect and kill melanoma cells, Dr. Sato believes he may be able to treat tumors more successfully—and Bjornar’s generous investment is helping to further this groundbreaking research.

View the metastatic uveal melanoma educational video below. Sadly, featured patient and philanthropist Ted Popp lost his cancer battle in May 2015; his passing illustrates the urgent need for research involving this devastating disease.