• Researchers study tumors, hope to find link to rare eye cancer cases in Huntersville

    By: Allison Latos

    Updated:

    HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. - There's a new plan to find a common link for 17 eye cancer cases in Huntersville.

    Channel 9 first started investigating this five years ago, when many of the cases seemed to be connected to Hopewell High School.

    In Huntersville, scientists will use key information from patients, even those who died, to identify the cause and save lives.


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    Researchers mapped where patients lived, worked and spent most of their time. Some patients had connections to an area 7 miles away near the Northcross Shopping Center.

    The result of the research was inconclusive because it was unable to identify a single location or period of time linking everyone with eye cancer.

    Now, the focus centers on examining tissue from each patient's tumor.

    March will mark five years since Kenny Colbert started sounding the alarm about an extremely rare eye cancer, which affected more than a dozen people near Huntersville.

    “I want to know the answer tomorrow,” Colbert said. “The doctors in Philadelphia told me we will find answers to this, but we may not find them in your lifetime.”

    Colbert's daughter, Kenan, fought ocular melanoma, which spread to her liver and ultimately claimed her life. Sadly, she's not the only one.

    Kenan could still help scientists find the crucial clues to a cause.

     “We believe we are seeing more younger females with this disease not just in Huntersville, but across the U.S.,” Dr. Richard Carvajal said.

    Carvajal, from Columbia University, said he's now testing the tumors of 11 local patients, studying the DNA of eye cancer and looking for a link to this medical phenomenon.

    “When we look at patients with skin cancers like melanoma that are caused by UV radiation, that UV radiation leaves a signature in the tumor DNA,” Carvajal said.

    Carvajal said if eye cancer tumors reveal a DNA signature, it could put them one step closer to pinpointing the cause and providing answers to families like Colbert's.

    “We've got to keep dogging this until we get to the bottom of it,” Colbert said.

    Carvajal said he should have the findings from the tumor tissue tests in April.

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