Researchers discover genes that increase melanoma risk

Queensland researchers believe they may have found an important factor in pinpointing who may be more susceptible to melanomas.

Scientists from the Queensland Institute for Medical Research, Brisbane (QIMR) have found two genes, which together, double a person’s risk of developing melanomas.

Professor Nick Hayward – who, with Professor Emma Whitelaw and her QIMR team, is among the Australian Cancer Research Foundation’s (ACRF)’s recent grant recipients – told ABC radio recently that Australia has the highest incidence of this most lethal form of skin cancer in the world, with more than 10,000 new cases rep

“We found two new genes that increased a person’s risk of melanoma. If you carry a variant of either one, you have about a 25 per cent increased risk of developing melanoma,” he said.

“If you have two variants at each of the two genes, then you have about a double, or twice the risk.”

Most people would associate melanoma with exposure to sunlight. But scientists have known that genes are involved in a person’s likelihood of developing the disease.

“What we found today are the first two gene variants that increase the person’s risk of melanoma, that actually act through increasing the number of moles on a person,” he said.

What is the impact of this discovery?

“It now gives us a sort of entree, if you like, into understanding the pathways that this regulated in melanoma development and also in mole formation, and how those two processes are related.

“With knowledge of the pathways that this regulated, hopefully at some stage in the future we might be able to determine possible new therapies that actually could counteract whatever is wrong in those pathways.”

But Professor Hayward says the new research doesn’t mean people should be rushing out to be genetically tested or screened if they are susceptible.

“The actual risk associated with either one of these gene variants is quite small,” he added.

“But what we’re hoping is that now giving us an extra two gene variants that we can put towards some kind of diagnostic or screening tests in the near future, let’s say, two to three years away where we might have a small collection of gene variants.

“There could be 10 or 20 different variants that we could look at simultaneously and together we can calculate a person’s susceptibility to melanoma.”

ACRF Chief Executive David Brettell said the breakthrough highlighted the Foundation’s focus on funding “ground breaking” work which will have a global impact on cancer.

“Last year we awarded The Queensland Institute for Medical Research $2.7 million in funding for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation Centre for Epigenetics. Our support reflects the brilliant work done by this team, who are considered to be world leaders in their field. QIMR is one of the best cancer research facilities in the world,” said Mr Brettell.

“This result is exciting and is one very important step on a road which could lead to further understanding and ultimately prevention of one of the most devastating of cancer types.”

orted every year.

Professor Hayward’s international research was published in the journal Nature Genetics recently.

Read the ABC article and watch the video report here