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Hunter researchers’ melanoma breakthrough

Feb 25 2011

Hunter researchers have made a new discovery with the potential to explain why melanomas do not respond to traditional chemotherapy treatments.

A recent publication by Dr Nikola Bowden, Dr Katie Ashton and Professor Rodney Scott in Cancer Research identified that melanoma cells do not respond to the cancer treatment drug, cisplatin, a chemotherapeutic DNA-damaging agent.

In the treatment of other cancers, cisplatin deliberately damages DNA so that a biological pathway called nucleotide excision repair (NER) can recognise and kill the damaged cells.

However, their study found reduced levels of NER after cisplatin treatment in melanoma cell lines, meaning the cancerous cells are resistant to traditional chemotherapy.

“Until now there has been a general assumption that NER is not affected in melanomas,” Dr Bowden said.

“This is the first report that shows NER is indeed involved in the resistance of melanoma to cisplatin treatment.”

“Melanoma incidence rates in Australia are amongst the highest in the world and while we have known for some time that UV radiation is the main cause we have not understood why traditional treatment responses have not been effective,” Professor Scott said.

“This exciting discovery means we have a greater knowledge of the biological pathways involved in melanoma development and we can now begin searching in a different direction for more effective treatments.”

While the published findings provide short term outcomes in understanding the limited effectiveness of cisplatin treatment in melanoma, the potential long term benefits include identifying individuals at risk of developing melanoma, informed decision making on the use of DNA-damaging chemotherapy agents and personal tailored therapies for the treatment of melanoma.

Melanoma incidence rates account for around 10 percent of all cancer cases in Australia.

Professor Rodney Scott is co-director of the University of Newcastle Priority Research Centre for Bioinformatics, Biomarker Discovery, Information Based Medicine and leader of the HMRI Information Based Medicine Program. Dr Nikola Bowden is NHMRC Training (post-doctoral) Fellow Dr Katie Ashton is the HMRI Bogner Cancer Research Fellow in the HMRI Information Based Medicine Program.