Families eager to learn results of rare eye cancer research in Huntersville

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Dr. Mike Brennan, the physician leading the efforts to find the cause of a rare eye cancer cluster in Huntersville, will update town leaders on his progress Monday night.

Brennan was given a $100,000 grant to do research on the cancer, which Channel 9 has been following for years. To date, there have been 17 confirmed cases of the disease in the area.


Brennan said genetic and blood tests are about 90 percent complete. The expert mapping out where patients lived, worked and went to school is almost finished, too, but hasn't found anything pointing to a cause for the illness.

Families said they aren't expecting all their questions about the cancer to be answered Monday night, but they're hoping some potential causes can be ruled out.

“Hopefully, we are going to find out, yes there is something there or there’s not anything there,” resident Kenny Colbert said. “But from what I’m hearing, there is not anything there.”

Colbert lost his daughter Keean to ocular melanoma more than three years ago. He's been fighting ever since to figure out why.

“The main thing is that progress is being made. Three years ago we knew nothing,” Colbert said.

Brennan said that genetics can likely be ruled out as a cause, because many of the family members affected haven’t shown a connection.

“My wife and I were tested,” Colbert said. “We found out we are clear -- that’s the good news. The unsettling news is -- what is out there?”

While the Colberts are willing to do their part, Brennan said other families are dropping out of the research due to fatigue.

Researchers said they’re still focused on environmental testing, though results from another study that looked at the soil of Hopewell High School -- where some patients showed a connection -- came up inconclusive.

The Colberts said they know their time and efforts in the lab won’t save their daughter, but it might help someone else down the road.

“I would think Keean is sitting there thinking with a smile on her face saying, ‘Go mom, go dad. Keep digging, you'll get something,’” Colbert said.

Brennan said all the research will still take some time, but he’s hoping to have most of it done by the end of the year.

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