While melanoma can develop on anyone — no matter their age, gender or race — caucasians are especially vulnerable to the disease.
All of this information makes the research and treatment of melanoma increasingly important. In the lab, DeMali says, researchers are working on finding out what drives the cancer cells to divide, and in the case of melanoma, divide so rapidly.
"The drugs we're developing are working very poorly. They're stopping the signals being sent to the melanoma cells to metastasize, but then other signals pop up, telling it to grow. We're doing research to learn what those new signals are and how to stop them," DeMali said.
Research in the lab, clinical trials and more information about how different treatments can be combined for more effective results are all part of the school's plan for moving forward in stopping melanoma.
One of the most fascinating parts of the evening was a time-lapse computer-generated model of melanoma cells in a petrie dish. Photos were taken every 10 minutes, and Milhelm said after three weeks, it showed how much more knowledge is still out there to discover.
"It's alive. It's inside us growing," he said as the shapes enlarged, grew together and took over the screen. "It's making blood vessels and trying to establish itself. It's creating this mass all by itself."
Melanoma knows no bounds. It can work its way from the skin through the blood vessels to any part of the body — an eye, the brain, heart, even the big toe. And unfortunately, it is also the only cancer than can be spread from a pregnant woman to her baby.
This type of information is the reason the University of Iowa began these mini clinics around the state. The Mini Medical School program is designed to provide an insight into the world of medicine by spotlighting researchers and clinicians from the university. The clinics are broken down into community education programs and STEM education programs for kids.