Crucial Support

T cells
Ross Bierkan
Duke alumnus Ross Bierkan

As a Duke alumnus, Ross Bierkan has long supported efforts at his alma mater. But he decided to give to melanoma research because of personal experience; he was diagnosed with melanoma in 1999 and has had four recurrences.

“I firmly believe that when you catch things early you can intercede and expect a reasonably good outcome,” he says. “But the fact that it’s recurring just points out the importance of not only maintaining vigilance but seeking answers to longer-term solutions.”

Bierkan made a gift that supports the research of April Salama, MD, and Brent Hanks, MD, PhD, who are working to understand why some patients with melanoma respond to immunotherapy and some don’t, and why some respond initially and then develop resistance.

The support from Bierkan has helped Hanks collect tissue specimens from patients and analyze them to discover pathways and mechanisms that may be involved when immunotherapies stop working. The work is painstaking and time-consuming and isn’t likely to be funded by large federal agencies.

“Philanthropic donations like Mr. Bierkan’s are absolutely critical in order to keep this process going,” Hanks says. “This is the only way that we’re going to be able to identify clinically significant mechanisms of resistance to immunotherapy and the only way we will ultimately get better therapeutics into the clinic.”