Health and Medicine

Funding boost for melanoma mission

How the deadly skin cancer melanoma is detected and treated is about to be revolutionised thanks to an $820,000 NHMRC grant to Edith Cowan University.

The ECU Melanoma Research Group (MRG) has developed a blood test that has the potential to detect melanoma relapse early, and also reduce the need for invasive skin biopsies and multiple scans.

Head of the MRG Professor Mel Ziman said the test would be used for routine monitoring of patients as this was the key to improving the survival rates for melanoma sufferers.

“With this blood test doctors will be able to monitor patients on a routine basis using a simple blood test. With this test we can detect when drugs are effective, or when the patient relapses very much earlier than current clinical methods of assessment, providing a safe, effective liquid biopsy, showing information about disease burden in real time” she said.

“This grant will help us bring the blood test into clinical practice, making it accessible for all melanoma patients undergoing treatment and for those that require routine monitoring.”

Targeted treatment

The blood test will be able to give oncologists a real time picture of how their patients are responding to treatment, a very exciting potential.

“Despite the significant success of recent melanoma treatments, some therapies are effective in only a proportion of patients – about 15 to 35 per cent – and other treatments only work for a short period due to the development of drug resistance,” Professor Ziman said.

“Currently the only way to determine the effectiveness of a particular form of treatment is to rely on an invasive biopsy which only provides information about a single tumour at a particular point in time and radiological scans, which lack sensitivity, are expensive and expose patients to high doses of radiation.

“Identifying which treatment is best suited to each patient will allow the personalisation of their therapy while reducing the cost and side effects of their treatment and increase effectiveness at the same time.”

“Most importantly, the blood test can reduce patient anxiety while waiting for the results of radiological scans, as they can have the blood test as often as necessary without any side effects.”

Professor Ziman said the MRG was working with world leading clinicians at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Fiona Stanley Hospital, and RGH, biotechnology company BioRad and PathWest, to translate the research from ECU into clinical practice.

In addition to Professor Ziman, Dr Elin Gray, Prof Michael Millward, Professor Nick Hayward, Professor Helen Rizos, Professor Benhur Amanuel, Associate Professor Adnan Khattak, Dr Johnny Lo, Dr Anthony Beckhouse, Dr Tarek Meniawy, Dr Sam Bowyer, and Ms Annie Cordingly are all working on the blood test.

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