Researchers from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have found new markers for melanoma that have the potential to accurately monitor the disease through a routine blood test. Mitchell Stark, who integrates QIMR Berghofer’s Oncogenomics group, noted that these novel biomarkers could be ideally used to monitor tumour progression in those diagnosed with early metastatic disease.
“This panel of markers could be useful in tracking melanoma progression or recurrence in patients being monitored by their treating clinician,” he stated in a press release. “They are highly sensitive and specific, and are significantly better than markers currently being used.”
Stark explained that better monitoring could improve patients’ odds of long-term survival even before the metastatic disease is clinically evident, allowing an early treatment intervention. “Survival rates for patients with metastatic melanoma differ greatly depending on the extent of spread. Patients with stage III melanoma, with spread confined to regional lymph nodes, have a five-year survival rate of about 50%, compared to less than 15% if metastases are widespread,” explained Stark.
The blood test would allow clinicians access to higher levels of biomarkers, or microRNAs, tiny molecules that regulate the amount of protein produced by a gene.
In this new study, the team managed to compare samples from 255 melanoma patients from the Melanoma Institute of Australia and Germany’s University of Tubingen, including 102 participants who had no evidence of melanoma. “In specimens from stage IV patients, the new biomarkers confirmed tumour progression in 100% of cases,” Stark added.
This work has been supported by the NHMRC and the Queensland Government’s Smart Futures Fund, representing a huge advance against melanoma: “The ability to identify signs of melanoma progression sooner will be a valuable clinical tool,” said Stark. “Testing for these new markers in regular blood tests will also help to determine whether stressful and expensive CT scanning is necessary at each follow-up. This is an excellent example of the world-leading research at QIMR Berghofer which has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of patients in Queensland and around the world.”