OM group

Members of regional ocular melanoma committee discuss potential next steps,uses for remaining research funds.

HUNTERSVILLE – A regional subcommittee convened by Mayor John Aneralla has identified several next steps in the ongoing effort to investigate the statistically high occurrence rate of ocular melanoma (OM) in north Mecklenburg and the surrounding area.

At the group’s first meeting, held Friday, May 18, at town hall, the group agreed to seek a basic analysis of large power transmission lines in the area, renew consideration of soil and water testing and to share information and expand conversations about the local cases with state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The committee also agreed to continue communications with a team of ophthalmology and oncology specialists throughout the state and nation that have been galvanized into a united network through the efforts of Dr. Michael Brennan.

Brennan is a member of the new OM committee along with N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte from Cornelius and Mecklenburg County Health Department Epidemiologist Sara Lovett. Aneralla and commissioners Mark Gibbons, Melinda Bales and Nick Walsh along with Interim Town Manager Jackie Huffman and former commissioner Rob Kidwell are Huntersville representatives on the committee. Cornelius Commissioner Dr. Michael Miltich and local oncologist Dr. John Powderly are also participating on the committee.

The committee was created by Aneralla and tasked with determining the best next steps to take to learn more about the OM cases in the region using approximately $27,000 remaining from a $100,000 state research grant Huntersville received in 2016. No direct expenditures were authorized at the group’s session, but Huffman was asked to re-connect with the Hart-Hickman environmental research firm as a preliminary step toward possible soil and/or water testing in the region.

Lovett, who has been communicating with Brennan throughout the research process, also recommended compiling updated information about area patients for the health department’s records. That information would be included in the data shared with state with CDC officials.

Committee members were asked to provide updates on all OM-related activities to share with the community. The group plans to meet again when findings from a large-scale tissue and genome sequencing research project involving samples from local patients are available for review. That research is now expected to be a collaborative effort involving Dr. Richard Carvajal at Columbia University in New York and Dr. William Harbour at the University of Miami. Brennan told members of the committee he expected initial information from the research to be available by August.

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