Uncovering new research for melanoma detection and treatment

doctor reviewing patient with a melanoma
© iStock/damiangretka

A new study from the Edith Cowan University, reveals that there could be a new way to spot melanoma cells circulating in the blood

The study published in the British Journal of Cancer has the potential to significantly improve the monitoring of cancer patients and guide future treatment.

Edith Cowan University’s Melanoma Research Group, in collaboration with Harvard Medical School and clinicians at Western Australian hospitals, has pioneered a new technique to detect circulating tumour cells (CTCs) that could provide a new avenue for cancer diagnosis and therapies.

Elin Gray, Lead researcher Associate Professor explained that the new step was based on the first study to comprehensively describe the immense diversity found in melanoma CTCs.

This research builds on the continued success of the Melanoma Research Group, who developed the world’s first blood test capable of detecting melanoma in its early stages.

Gray explained: “These preliminary findings are the first step towards a new way to stop melanoma from spreading around the body. Cancer spreads around the body when CTCs shed from the primary tumour and travel through the blood to form secondary tumours (metastases) in other organs.

“If we can find a way to reliably detect these cells, then we have a chance to stop melanoma in its tracks with a powerful diagnostic tool and perhaps opportunities for therapies in the future.”

Looking for a needle in a haystack

Until now Melanoma CTCs have proved to be incredibly elusive, with detection rates wildly varying from 40% to 87%.

Gray explained how the research has revealed why CTC’s are notoriously difficult to find, she said: “We now understand that CTC detection cannot be resolved with a one-size-fits-all approach. There is a huge amount of variety in the shape and bioactivity of these CTCs and so they all look different and respond differently to assay tests.

“To complicate things further, melanoma CTCs are hidden among thousands of other cells and matter in the blood. Within one millilitre of blood, there are often fewer than 10 cancer cells among one billion red cells and one million white blood cells.”

Changing the approach to detection

By understanding the complexity of detecting circulating tumour cells the researchers tried a multifaceted approach to detecting melanoma CTCs.

Gray explained: “By combining three assays together, we raised detection rates to 72%, which was a significantly and consistently higher result than using one test.

“We are confident this approach is a move towards the reliable detection of CTCs, but we now need to tweak the assay to include a better combination to capture the broadest range of CTCs.”

The ECU Melanoma Research Group is now working with artificial intelligence experts to fast-track the identification of CTCs.

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