A new approach to preventing the spread of melanoma

A local cancer researcher is making exciting breakthroughs which could help melanoma patients live longer, due to ongoing funding from the Kirkbride Melanoma Centre.

Several years ago Rikki Brown was an honours student with great potential, but was “working ridiculous hours, seven days a week, juggling my work in the lab and a job at Bunnings to pay the rent.”

An initial scholarship from the Kirkbride which allowed her to focus on her work at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, has been backed up by a new Kirkbride Discovery Research Grant, awarded last month.

Ms Brown says cancer research takes time but there have already been important findings about how melanoma spreads through the body.

“We identified a molecule, known as a microRNA, which shows great potential as a treatment to stop melanoma spreading from the skin to other organs,” she says.

“Patients typically die of the disease when it spreads to organs such as the lung, liver and brain and new treatments are urgently needed.“

“We have found this molecule is able to reduce the processes that promote the spread of melanoma. We’re now working to understand how it does it,” she says.  “We are also looking at potential therapies for melanoma patients and trying to use our research to predict if a patient’s disease will return.”

Ms Brown says she has always loved science and it’s been an ongoing family joke that one day she’d be the one to cure cancer.

The Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research is proud that Rikki’s exciting research is happening in Western Australia under supervision of Prof Peter Leedman and with collaborative support from Dr Keith Giles in New York.

Suncorp Bank, a long time supporter of the Kirkbride Melanoma Centre has also awarded a Suncorp Bank Discovery Research Grant to  Professor Prue Hart, a researcher with the Telethon Kids Institute, to look at how sun exposure is linked to melanoma progression and the effect of anti-inflammatories on melanoma.

A photo immunologist, Professor Hart has spent many years studying how sunlight on the skin can repress the immune system so it allows melanomas to develop.

“Now we’ve discovered that exposing skin to ultra violet light somehow sends signals to the bone marrow,” she says.  “We know bone marrow is integral to producing immune cells so if sunlight makes a change to bone marrow cells and that bone marrow is providing cells to the body, then the immune system can be suppressed even in areas which were not exposed to the UV light.”

“We are also looking at the effect of anti-inflammatories and the way they might help prevent the immune system from being repressed, as we already know that people on anti-inflammatories tend to have fewer melanomas.”

Suncorp Bank is a continued supporter of the Kirkbride's melanoma research through their Sunsmart programme. Both awards were recently given at the Kirkbride Cocktail Party evening held at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

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