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Huntersville eye cancer study results expected by spring or summer

Results are expected by late spring or early summer of studies assessing why large numbers of a rare eye cancer have been reported in the small town of Huntersville.
Results are expected by late spring or early summer of studies assessing why large numbers of a rare eye cancer have been reported in the small town of Huntersville.

Results of studies in Huntersville of an unusual number of rare eye cancer cases are expected by late spring or early summer, state Sen. Jeff Tarte said. The local issue has drawn national attention.

Seventeen to 18 cases of ocular melanoma have been reported in Huntersville since 2014, far more than the 5 cases in 1 million people that is expected in a year. Tarte, a Cornelius Republican, secured a $100,000 grant last year for studies probing why that has happened.

“More funding has been set aside for a possible dig, and a large amount remains for further testing,” Tarte’s newsletter to constituents said Friday.

State health officials previously reported that the number of cases reported between 2013 and 2015 weren’t more than would be expected. But as more cases turned up – Tarte puts confirmed cases at 17, below the 18 cited last summer – residents have pressed for further study.

A retired ophthalmologist, Dr. Michael Brennan, is coordinating research by other physicians and scientists. Those include specialists at Duke University Hospital, Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia, Columbia University in New York and the University of California, San Francisco.

Research is underway in three areas.

A geospatial analysis, nearly finished, is mapping the victims’ lives, by time and place, to find any common denominators. There is “yet to be any data found to indicate a (reason) behind this illness,” Tarte’s newsletter reported.

An oncologist at Columbia University is analyzing tumor tissue from patients who died from the disease, lost an eye to it or had a biopsy before beginning radiation treatments. That study will assess why cells in those patients turned malignant.

And Carolinas HealthCare System has offered free genetics counseling and blood tests to help Huntersville’s ocular melanoma patients and their families learn whether they carry hereditary predispositions to the disease.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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