First-ever Single Cell Analysis of Uveal Melanoma

Eye cancer specialists discover previously unrecognized cells in deadly eye cancer

A study analyzing new evolutionary complexity in uveal melanoma by J. William Harbour, M.D., professor of ophthalmology, vice chair and director of ocular oncology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and associate director for basic science at the NCI-designated Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was published today in Nature Communications, a highly regarded, peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“This is the first-ever single-cell analysis of uveal melanoma,” said Harbour, holder of the Mark J. Daily Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology.  “We discovered previously unrecognized genetic and cellular complexity in this deadly eye cancer.”

A key finding was an enrichment of T cells expressing the checkpoint molecule LAG3, rather than the more familiar PD1 and CTLA4 molecules, which have been the focus of most checkpoint inhibitor therapy to date.  This may explain why uveal melanoma has responded poorly to such drugs and nominates LAG3 as a new target for immunotherapy in uveal melanoma.

Uveal melanoma is the most common primary cancer of the eye, with approximately 2,000 – 3,000 cases diagnosed each year in the United States.  Uveal melanoma is highly metastatic and unresponsive to checkpoint immunotherapy.

Harbour’s ocular oncology laboratory focuses on the use of genetic and genomic methods, computational and bioinformatic technologies, and genetically engineered cellular and animal models to better understand and treat major forms of eye cancer, including uveal melanoma, retinoblastoma, and lymphoma.

This work was supported by National Cancer Institute grant R01 CA125970, Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc. Senior Scientific Investigator Award, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Medical Scientist Training Program, the University of Miami Sheila and David Fuente Graduate Program in Cancer Biology, the Center for Computational Science Fellowship, the Melanoma Research Foundation Senior Investigator Award, and a generous gift from Dr. Mark J. Daily.  The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute received funding from NIH Core Grant P30EY014801 and a Research to Prevent Blindness Unrestricted Grant. The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center also received funding from the National Cancer Institute Core Support Grant P30CA240139.

About Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of University of Miami Hospital and Clinics, is ranked the nation’s best in ophthalmology by U.S. News & World Report, an honor it has received for the 18th time, and also by Ophthalmology Times. In addition to its international reputation as one of the premier providers of eye care in the world, Bascom Palmer is the largest ophthalmic care, research and educational facility in the southeastern United States. Each year, more than 260,000 patients with nearly every ophthalmic condition are treated, and more than 16,000 surgeries are performed. With five patient care facilities in Florida (Miami, Palm Beach Gardens, Naples, Plantation, and Coral Gables), the Institute serves as the Department of Ophthalmology for the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and is directed by Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D. Bascom Palmer faculty members also staff the Miami and West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, Jackson Memorial Hospital and Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. The sponsored research enterprise at Bascom Palmer has grown from $3.8 million in 2004 to $16 million in 2018. For information on Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, contact Marla Bercuson at (305) 326-6190 or, or visit

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