Genetic sequencing, soil tests provide no answers in eye cancer cluster mystery

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — It's one of the biggest mysteries of our area. Why are so many people getting ocular melanoma in Huntersville and Lake Norman?

Ocular melanoma is an extremely rare eye cancer that impacts about 5 in 1,000,000 people. In Huntersville, 22 people have been diagnosed with the cancer.

Channel 9 has investigated this for years and the town of Huntersville has spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this is happening. At the town commission meeting Monday night, leaders learned they are not much closer to an answer.

"For the families, that is a whole different thing. They want answers," Matt Bramblett with Hart & Hickman said. "I would love to find the answers but I don't have one."

Environmental consulting firm Hart & Hickman tested the soil in four different locations- Hopewell High School, North Mecklenburg Park, Stephens Road Nature Reserve and Huntersville Fire Station 3. The firm didn't discover anything out of the ordinary. Based on those results, the environmental firm isn't recommending more testing.

"We don't have any real direction for where to go from here," Bramblett said.

It's not just soil testing.


Retired eye doctor Michael Brennan says genetic sequencing didn't reveal any mutations that are exclusive to this cluster.

"So far what we did on tumor tissue did not characterize this population as unique," Dr. Brennan said.

Dr. Brennan says that doesn't mean officials are going to give up. He is advocating for another round of genetic testing. He would like to pursue fresh serum whole genome sequencing, focusing specifically on young women with the cancer.

Huntersville is slated to receive a $100,000 grant for more research when the state budget passes.

State Senator Natasha Marcus was in attendance Monday night. She says she is frustrated by the lack of findings but officials need to keep working.

"I was hoping we would hear something to go on, a clue, some help solve this medical mystery we are dealing with in Huntersville and Cornelius," Senator Marcus said. "We didn't get those answers tonight."

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