Understanding changes leading to melanoma of the eye

Dr Kelly Brooks

Kelly’s research grant is co-funded by Cancer Australia  through the Priority-driven Cancer Support Scheme. Her second year is 50% funded by The Can Too Foundation.

Kelly is a research officer at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. She completed her PhD at the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute in 2012 where she was focused on skin melanoma; identifying defects in the mechanisms that regulate their growth, and how these defects might actually be used against the cancer cells.

Upon completion of her PhD, Kelly spent over four years working at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute in England. Her main focus here was on uveal melanoma, a rarer melanoma type that occurs in the eye. Kelly investigated the role of two genes that influence if and how the melanoma will spread beyond the eye, and created models that can be used to understand this. Kelly is currently further pursing investigations into uveal melanoma at QIMR Berghofer, looking at a particular signalling pathway that is altered in approximately >90% of uveal melanoma cases, with the aim to find ways of targeting this altered pathway and ultimately develop new treatments for uveal melanoma.

The research

Uveal melanoma is a rarer melanoma subtype, but patient outcomes are worse than that for the more common cutaneous melanoma. ‘In approximately 50% of uveal melanoma patients, the cancer will spread to other sites in the body and currently there are no effective systemic treatments available for this,’ says Kelly. ‘The work I am 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.’

The importance of funding

‘This Cure Cancer grant is very important to me, providing me with a crucial first step towards my goal of establishing myself as an independent researcher,’ says Kelly. ‘The funding enables me to pursue my area of interest and demonstrate my ability to drive my own research, forming a foundation of work that will allow me to advance my career by pursuing additional funding.’

For Kelly, this grant provides recognition of the importance of understanding this rare but significant melanoma subtype, uveal melanoma. ‘Rarer cancer subtypes are becoming more of a priority world-wide, and the award of this grant provides me with the stepping stone I need to establish myself as a uveal melanoma researcher in Australia.’

‘Personally, I feel extremely grateful for the award of this grant as it allows me to pursue a career I am passionate about. Being personally touched by cancer through family members, this work is about more than a career to me and this funding provides me with the means to keep striving towards my ultimate goal of making a tangible impact on this devastating disease.’

Kelly is based at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

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