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Investigating the genetic causes of malignant melanoma skin cancer

  • Researcher: Professor Julia Newton-Bishop
  • Institution: University of Leeds
  • Award Amount: £189,118 for 3 years from January 2012
  • Cancer Type: Skin Cancer
Investigating the genetic causes of malignant melanoma skin cancer

There are two main types of skin cancer; the more common and less dangerous non-malignant melanoma and the less common but more dangerous malignant melanoma.
Professor Newton Bishop and her team have collected one of the largest malignant melanoma sample and data sets in the world. They have recruited over 1,900 patients and are following their progress for at least 8 years. Such large collections are needed to understand such a complex disease.

Advanced malignant melanomas have always been difficult to treat.  There has been recent progress for some types of malignant melanoma; drug therapies are producing encouraging results in tumours that have genetic alterations in the gene called BRAF. However, in most patients these drugs gradually lose their effectiveness and much remains to be understood as to why. Also, for other types of malignant melanoma tumour the main genetic causes remain unknown.  

One of the problems when studying malignant melanoma is that the tumours are very small, meaning little material to use for research. Professor Newton Bishop’s team have developed ways of producing large amounts of genetic information from tiny samples of the tumours stored by hospitals as part of clinical care. Using these samples, Professor Newton Bishop aims to investigate the genetic types of malignant melanoma as well as identifying genetic alterations that may indicate whether or not the cancer is likely to come back.  She will also be investigating whether any such genetic alterations could be turned off using drugs.

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