A research project at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has been awarded funding from the United States-based Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) to develop ways to prevent or slow melanoma growth.
Dr Graeme Walker from QIMR Berghofer’s Drug Discovery group said most treatments for melanoma are aimed at late stage disease.
“It is important that we look at ways to strengthen a patient’s ability to stave off melanoma development, including the prevention of tumour growth after undergoing surgery to remove early stage melanoma,” Dr Walker said.
“After excision, undetectable tumour cells can later grow to cause life-threatening disease.”
Australia has the world’s highest rate of melanoma, which is responsible for more than 1300 deaths each year.
Dr Walker said the study will look at innate genetic differences that distinguish those who are particularly susceptible from those who are protected from melanoma.
“We have identified a particular gene which greatly exacerbates melanoma development and is also associated with melanoma survival,” Dr Walker said.
“In collaboration with Professor Grant Morahan at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth, and Dr Glen Boyle here at QIMR Berghofer, we will use a specially developed rapid testing system in animal models to reveal the natural biological processes that modulate melanoma growth.”
“Our aim is to validate the gene and its mode of action, then to test candidate therapeutic options in the animal model, opening the way for initial clinical trials in high-risk patients.”
Dr Walker’s project is among MRA grants totalling more than $13 million for cutting-edge melanoma research at 25 leading academic institutions in four countries, and the only one in Australia.
MRA Chief Science Officer Louise Perkins said the calibre of applications received for this year’s grants was exceptional.
“While melanoma treatment options have expanded in recent years, existing therapies still benefit too few melanoma patients,” Dr Perkins said.
“This year’s MRA awards will build on the momentum in the field and hopefully accelerate improved outcomes for all patients.”