$5M cancer research grant helps beat melanoma

WIMRThe Westmead health precinct’s world-leading expertise in the analysis and treatment of melanomahas been boosted by the new, $5 million, Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) Melanoma Laboratories at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research.

Speaking at the official opening of the laboratories in Sydney today, the Institute’s co-director of cancer research, Professor Graham Mann, said that thanks to the generosity of many Australians, melanoma researchers and clinicians working at The Westmead Institute are becoming global leaders in skin cancer research.

To date, researchers at the ACRF Melanoma Laboratories have helped discover the first gene that causes a high risk of melanoma. Professor Mann’s team then went on to discover most of the 20 gene variations identified to date that, together with sun exposure, determine melanoma risk in the community.

The ACRF-funded facilities enable data and tissue samples provided by Westmead melanoma patients to be part of the largest melanoma research biobank collections in the world, in partnership with Melanoma Institute Australia.

These tumour samples help to drive efforts to understand why treatments work or don’t work, and to provide the means for the discovery of the next generation of effective therapies.

The Westmead Institute is at the forefront of translational melanoma research and has been involved in the very first trials in the world of the new generation of mutation targeted therapy and immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs. The outcomes of these trials have brought new hope to melanoma patients in recent years.

“Translational research aims to close the gap between basic research and clinical application. In recent years ACRF has had the privilege to support this kind of visionary work that we are confident it will play a major part in facilitating a pathway from medical discovery to improved health,” said Professor Ian Brown CEO, Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

“The grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation allowed us to hard-wire melanoma research and its translation into clinical care at the Westmead campus. And it has created an attractive environment that continues to bring the best cancer researchers to work on melanoma at Westmead,” said Professor Mann.

Professor Mann continued that the next challenge is to identify and understand the many genetic variations of melanoma and why they result in different treatment responses in individual patients.

“We are increasingly confident that the drugs we are using now are benefiting most people, even with extensive melanoma. It’s exciting to have made this exceptional progress,” said Professor Mann.

“But we still need more options because existing treatments don’t work on everyone; and we need smarter testing so that we can quickly identify which drug is more likely to work for a particular patient. There is a way to go yet, but we are determined to make melanoma a treatable disease for everyone. State of the art labs like the ACRF Melanoma Laboratories at The Westmead Institute are what will get us there,” concluded Professor Mann.

A further practical outcome of the team’s research has been the ground breaking discovery that artificial sunbeds were boosting melanoma rates in Australia, especially in young people. As a result, the NSW Government instigated bans on the use of commercial solaria which are now replicated around Australia.