Advancing Melanoma Research in Times of Uncertainty

By Cody Barnett, MPH, MRA Senior Director of Communications & Patient Engagement | 9 June 2021 | Allies & Partnerships, Melanoma Stories, Policy, Prevention, Science, Treatment


Each year, the annual MRA Scientific Retreat brings hundreds of people from across the melanoma research ecosystem together to exchange ideas, report on scientific progress, celebrate achievements, and mourn the losses. In these ways, the 2021 Retreat was no different.

However, just as 2020 — and COVID-19 — changed all facets of life, including how we work, how our children go to school, and how we see and interact with our loved ones, the 2021 Retreat couldn’t be more different than those that came before it. For the first time in its history, out of necessity for the health and safety of all attendees, MRA’s annual gathering was held virtually.

This year — instead of flocking to Washington, DC — participants donned headsets, huddled over computers, and carefully carved out space from their daily schedules to participate. The rigor of the scientific talks and poster sessions, opportunities for meaningful networking, and willingness to report on pre-publication work was exactly what you’d expect from an MRA event. And, without the confines of a hotel ballroom, participation flourished, almost doubling to more than 500 people — bringing even more people into the MRA community.

Participants heard from 17 patients and advocates throughout the retreat who — through the power of their stories — offered encouragement, gratitude, and reinforced the urgent need for more research, more treatments, and more hope.

Keith Tolley thanked participants for allowing him to live to see the birth of two grandchildren, the marriage of his oldest son, and to celebrate many birthdays and holidays with his family. “As a surviving stage 4 melanoma patient, I am a beneficiary of the incredible discoveries that you continue to make and the tireless work you continue to do. Because of your relentless pursuit of a cure, I have great hope that I may yet still live to see more of these special events.”

Christine Garrison spoke of her daughter Rebecca who succumbed to melanoma in 2011. “She lived for seven good years after her diagnosis. During this time, you were here lifeline. She always looked to you for a lifeline when her current treatment was failing. You came through for her many times. I know today that you are the lifeline for countless others. Thank you on behalf of us all for working hard to bring us ever more ‘Plan B’s’ and hope for a cure.”

With these searing words still fresh in their mind, participants started each day of the MRA Retreat: Meeting the moment and advancing melanoma research in truly unprecedented times.

Download the Report: Advancing Melanoma Research in Times of Uncertainty: Highlights from the 2021 MRA Scientific Retreat

Retreat Report24