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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) –LSU Health New Orleans is recruiting patients for a clinical trial to treat Merkel cell cancer that cannot be removed by surgery, controlled with treatment, or has spread to other parts of the body.

It is the first systemic intervention for patients with advanced Merkel cell carcinoma. This new form of treatment, called immunotherapy, works differently than chemotherapy in that it boosts the body’s own natural defense system to help fight cancer.

LSU Health New Orleans is one of 11 sites in the country selected to enroll patients in this clinical trial.

Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer. It is linked to exposure to ultraviolet rays, but about 80 percent of cases are associated with a virus called Merkel cell polyomavirus. There are currently no FDA-approved drugs to treat Merkel cell carcinoma.

While some patients do respond to chemotherapy, after about three months, the disease typically progresses, leaving patients with few, if any, treatment options. Merkel cell carcinoma took the life of Al Copeland Sr. in 2008. There were no and are still no FDA-approved treatments for Merkel cell carcinoma.

Members of the Copeland family dedicated themselves to raising funds to help find a cure for this and other cancers. That’s how the Al Copeland Foundation was born. The ACF chose LSU Health New Orleans as its partner in this quest and continues to raise funds for cancer research at LSU Health New Orleans.

“LSU Health New Orleans is one of a few sites able to offer this clinical trial, and  patients with advanced Merkel cell carcinoma in our area will no longer have to travel long distances to participate,” said Dr. Larry Hollier, chancellor of LSU Health New Orleans.

Early results of the first 26 patients with advanced Merkel cell carcinoma treated with immunotherapy were published in April 2016. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than half of the patients in this small clinical study had a complete or partial response to treatment with immunotherapy, and overall, the responses have been longer-lasting than those typically seen in patients with this very rare cancer who have received chemotherapy.

The Al Copeland Foundation is asking that if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with MCC, get in touch with the foundation to find out how you can be apart of the trial. The clinical trial, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, seeks to enroll a total of 50 patients among the participating sites.

The Al Copeland Foundation donated $100,000 to support this clinical trial, raised with the first annual Chicken Jam event.


To find out if you qualify or for more information about the Merkel cell carcinoma clinical trial at LSU Health New Orleans, call 504-407-7395.