Oncologist talks research, ocular melanoma

J. William Harbour joined the Miller School of Medicine faculty to direct the Ocular Oncology Service at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Aug. 1. He is also a member of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and is collaborating with the Center to further a test he developed for the detection of high-risk ocular melanoma.

The Miami Hurricane: What is the focus of your research?

J. William Harbour: My background has focused on ocular melanoma, which is the most common cancer that occurs within the eye. This cancer develops in 40 to 50 percent of patients, who are at higher risk from dying of its metastasis.

TMH: Where did your findings lead you?

JWH: I developed a prognostic test that identifies which patients are at high risk for ocular melanoma. By identifying a mutation that causes the metastasis, it allows one to design therapies for these patients who are at high risk.

TMH: How frequently does this cancer occur?

JWH: Of all ocular cancers combined, just about 2,000 cases occur each year in the U.S. However, when extreme conditions like intraocular tumors are considered, it can be more than 100,000 patients in the U.S. per year.

TMH: What is the possible future goal of this test?

JWH: I hope to work as part of an interdisciplinary team to develop new technologies similar to the prognostic test that can help with other types of eye cancers. I want to possibly expand beyond ophthalmology into radiation oncology, pediatric oncology, genetics and genomics with the help of other melanoma experts.

TMH: What led you to come to Sylvester?

JWH: I can tap into the expertise and many disciplines here in Sylvester and take a cohesive approach to ocular cancers. And it is an opportunity to be part of something that is outstanding.