Research Spotlight: Melanoma
As we come into summertime, we look at three of our Cure Cancer researchers focused on melanoma research.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma occurs when abnormal cells in the skin grow in an uncontrolled way.
Your skin is made up of many types of cells. One of these cell types – called melanocytes – gives your skin its colour by producing a brown pigment called melanin. Melanoma is cancer that occurs in these cells.
Other types of skin cells can also develop into cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma. These are sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancer, and are more common than melanoma. Melanoma is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than other types of skin cancer.
Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, but it is more common on the body, head or neck in men; and the arms and legs in women.
New cases and deaths
Melanoma is one of the ten most common cancers in both men and women in Australia. Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world. In 2018, it is estimated that the risk of an individual being diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer by their 85th birthday will be 1 in 17 (1 in 13 males and 1 in 23 females).
It has also been estimated that in 2018, it will become the 8th most common cause of death from cancer and that this will increase to 1,905 deaths (1,331 males and 574 females).
Melanoma Research Supported by Cure Cancer
Cure Cancer has supported many melanoma research projects. Currently, we are supporting the work of Dr Esther Lim (Macquarie University), Dr Kelly Brooks (QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute) and Dr Lauren Aoude (University of Queensland Diamantina Institute).
Esther’s research looks for ways to boost the human immune system to improve the effectiveness of current melanoma therapies.
"We’ve made significant leaps in understanding this disease, and we're working very hard towards finding better treatments and, ultimately, a cure,” she says.
Esther is funded by Cure Cancer Australia and Cancer Australia through the Cancer Australia Priority-Driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme. Her grant is solely supported by The Can Too Foundation
Kelly studies uveal melanoma, or melanoma of the eye. The work Kelly is doing is focused on understanding a signalling pathway that is defective in over 90% of uveal melanomas. As such, understanding and being able to target these signalling defects has the potential to provide treatment options for the vast majority of uveal melanoma patients, and for other cancers that demonstrate abnormal signalling in this pathway.
Kelly is co-funded by Cure Cancer Australia and Cancer Australia.
Lauren investigates the genomics that drive melanoma tumours. Her current work combines exome sequencing data from melanoma patients with PET/CT scans with the aim of improving the way in which patients are treated in the clinic. This project combines deep whole-exome sequencing of tumours with routine PET/CT imaging to confirm an association between clinical presentation, tumour genomic heterogeneity and PET/CT scans in melanoma patients.
‘The Cure Cancer grant is vitally important to my work, and without it this research could not be done,’ says Lauren. ‘It gives me the means as a young investigator to run my own project and become a more independent researcher. The grant has given me the opportunity to run a project as a lead investigator. I aspire to run my own lab one day and to have the research support of a major funding body is very exciting. Personally, I am thrilled to undertake this project because I believe it is an important body of work that could change the way in which melanoma patients are treated in the future.’
Lauren is funded by Cure Cancer, solely supported by The Can Too Foundation.