HMRI researchers at forefront of melanoma overhaul

Sep 2 2011

Newcastle skin cancer experts are among an international research consortium behind the overhaul of current melanoma treatments worldwide.

Today is National Shade Day that highlights the devastating effects of melanoma, reminds people about prevention and champions the latest research developments.

University of Newcastle Associate Professor Xu Dong Zhang’s and Conjoint Professor Peter Hersey have been part of the research effort that has contributed to the world’s most effective treatment to date for lethal secondary tumours known as metastatic melanomas.

“This new treatment, which is in clinical trials across Australia, the United States and the UK, targets the protein that feeds certain types of metastatic melanomas, attacking them with an oral medication that ‘shuts off’ tumours by neutralising a mutated cancer growth gene called BRAF,” Associate Professor Zhang said.

Conjoint Professor Peter Hersey has been responsible for the introduction of the trials in the Hunter region, which are run from the Newcastle Melanoma Unit. He describes the new groundbreaking BRAF inhibitor treatment as ‘revolutionary.’

“We are getting some great results with the new class of drugs that target BRAF and have also found new research targets to improve outcomes for other metastatic melanoma patients and eventually find a cure,” Professor Hersey said.

Dr Zhang secured grants this year of more than $600,000 from the Cancer Council NSW to investigate the role of BRAF inhibitors in the treatment of melanoma. About 100 patients globally – 30 in Newcastle – have been treated with the revolutionary BRAF drug.

Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, but there is currently no cure to treat melanoma once it has spread beyond the original site on the skin. With over 3,500 new cases diagnosed in NSW every year, melanoma is the most common cancer to kill young and middle-aged females (aged 15-54) in the state.

Newcastle Melanoma Clinic is one of three sites in Australia linked to the international research consortium – the others are The Melanoma Institute of Australia’s site at  Westmead Hospital and  the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.