Biomedical Sciences ETDs


Adam Flook

Publication Date



Skin cancer is the one of the most diagnosed cancers in the United States with increasing incidence over the past two decades. There are three major forms of skin cancer but melanoma is the deadliest. It is estimated that 76,690 new diagnoses of melanoma and 9,480 deaths will occur in 2013. Melanoma accounts for approximately 1.6% of all cancer related deaths and is the 5th leading diagnosed cancer in the United States. The mean survival rate of patients diagnosed with metastatic melanoma is six months, with five year survival rates of less than 5%. In this project, we describe the design and characterization of novel melanoma-targeting peptide analogs for use in diagnostic imaging of both primary and metastatic melanoma lesions. Novel α-MSH peptide conjugates were designed to target the melanocortin-1 receptor present and over-expressed on melanoma cells. These peptides were synthesized and their in-vitro melanocortin-1 receptor binding affinities were established in murine melanoma cells. Once binding affinities were determined, the peptides were radiolabeled with 99mTc utilizing a novel direct radiolabeling technique developed in our laboratory. The peptides were purified via reverse-phase high performance liquid chromatography and in-vivo melanoma targeting and pharmacokinetic properties were determined in B16/F1 melanoma-bearing female C57BL/6 mice. Biodistribution and SPECT/CT imaging studies were performed with the promising 99mTc-labeled peptide conjugates. All α-MSH peptide conjugates tested showed low nanomolar binding affinity for the melanocortin-1 receptor. All peptides were readily radiolabeld with 99mTc with greater than 95% radiochemical purity. All 99mTc-labeled peptides displayed high specific in-vivo melanoma tumor uptake while maintaining low normal organ accumulation, and were excreted through the urinary system in a timely fashion. In addition, all tested 99mTc-labeld α-MSH peptides demonstrated clear visualization of in-vivo tumor lesions with SPECT/CT. While all peptides exhibited high melanoma uptake, extremely high non-specific renal uptake was of concern. After synthesis of α-MSH peptide conjugates containing a different amino acid linker, renal uptake was drastically reduced and a lead compound had emerged, showing favorable in-vivo melanoma targeting and uptake properties with limited amounts of non-specific renal accumulation.


cancer biology, Melanocortin-1 receptor, alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone, melanoma imaging, melanoma targeting, melanoma

Document Type




Degree Name

Biomedical Sciences

Level of Degree


Department Name

Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

First Committee Member (Chair)

Prossnitz, Eric

Second Committee Member

Hathaway, Helen

Third Committee Member

Feng, Changjian