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Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world, with 13,941 new cases of melanoma skin cancer estimated to be diagnosed in 2017.

Melanoma develops from excessive exposure to sunlight and is highly resistant to chemotherapy. Because of Australia’s geographical location, Australians are far more at risk of developing skin cancer than many other parts of the world. With poor prognosis, melanoma is incredibly hard to treat.

"Chemotherapy usually works by attacking the DNA of a cancer cell and damaging it so badly that it dies. Normally, the DNA repair pathway in a cell will either fix the damage, as it does when we get sunburnt, or 'tell' a cell to die when the damage is extreme” explains former Cure Cancer Australia grant recipient, Dr. Nikola Bowden.

“But in melanoma this pathway is dysfunctional, so traditional chemotherapy has little or no effect and the cancerous cells continue to accumulate damage and grow."

Thankfully, Dr Nikola Bowden is looking to change the status quo by delivering personalised diagnosis and treatment to patients.

Funded by Cure Cancer Australia in 2010 and again in 2013, Nikola has made exceptional progress in her area of research. She used her funding to help her prove that DNA repair is deficient in melanoma, and went on to confirm these findings in a large patient cohort. Because of these findings; “we can alter the treatment to get DNA repair to work again” she explains.

Research like Nikola’s is bringing us ever closer to finding a cure. By making a donation today, you are helping early-career cancer researchers like her to carry out their vital work.

Nikola and her team at the Hunter Medical Research Institute are using their discovery to create a brand-new treatment for melanoma. Clinical trials are occurring right now.

Although treatment for the first patient in the clinical trial has been a success, it hasn’t all been easy travelling,” she says. The combination of drugs tried on the patient massively exceeded Nikola’s research budget – an enormous $2,600 per dose for ten doses. 

This forced her to go back to the drawing board, and, working with two pharmaceutical companies, she managed to come up with a different combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy at only $3,000 per patient for the entire treatment.

Nikola will now trial the adjusted approach on more patients in the hope of further successful results. If successful, Nikola’s new treatment will be an affordable, effective and easy-to-access treatment for advanced melanoma.

This research could transform how melanoma is treated in the future.

A breakthrough in one cancer can sometimes lead to a breakthrough in another. In fact, a variation of Nikola’s original melanoma research has been applied to work for ovarian cancer. It just goes to show that research works, and we cannot cure cancer without it.

*Dr Nikola Bowden's second grant is solely supported by the Can Too Foundation

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