Research projects

Resisting resistance: How melanoma cells survive targeted therapy

Researcher
Professor Jean-Christophe Marine
Project period
Jan 2022 - Jan 2025
Country
Research Institute
Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB)
Cancer types
Melanoma
Award amount
£170,180

Project aim

Dr Jean-Christophe Marine and his team are trying to understand why some melanoma cells are able to go ‘dormant’ and survive targeted treatments, or even become resistant to the drug used. They hope to learn how to target these resistant cells and make treatments more effective for patients.

Hope for the future

One of the biggest issues when treating any cancer is that cells can become resistant to treatments, meaning a small number of cells can survive and multiply again once treatment is finished. If this happens, a patient’s cancer can return and they will have to try a different treatment, if an alternative is available.

Dr Marine and his team discovered that before melanoma cells become fully resistant to treatment, they go into a ‘dormant’ state that makes it harder for treatments to have an effect. They hope that studying how melanoma cells enter this dormant state will reveal a way to target these cells before resistance eventually develops, making treatments more effective for many cases of melanoma, and potentially for other types of cancer.

Meet the scientist

Dr Jean-Christophe Marine first realised that he wanted to study cancer for a living when working as a postdoc at St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, USA. There, he worked on exciting projects with colleagues that shared his ambition to make a difference and help patients. Outside of the lab, he enjoys cooking for friends with a nice glass of wine and is a big sports fan.

The science

Minimal residual disease (MRD) in melanoma occurs when a small number of cells remain in the body after most other cancer cells have been wiped out by a treatment. Sometimes, the cells have become resistant to the treatment used and the cancer can come back. Dr Jean-Christophe Marine and his team have discovered that these cells can start to look like ‘starved’ melanoma cells (SMCs), where the cells go into a dormant-like state that makes them more resistant to treatment. Importantly, this seems to happen before the melanoma cells become fully drug resistant.

Dr Marine and his team now aim to understand the process that changes melanoma cells into SMCs and investigate how they might be able to target cells that are in this state. They hope that catching cells at this stage will prevent them becoming resistant to treatment and believe that targeting SMCs while a patient is receiving treatment may help to make sure all the melanoma cells are destroyed. This could greatly improve treatment outcomes for melanoma patients and possibly for people with other types of cancer.

Dr Chris Marine wearing glasses and looking at the camera Dr Jean-Christophe Marine
Going to the lab every morning is exciting on so many levels, but above all it is the opportunity to contribute to a better understanding of cancer, which affects so many people worldwide - this is what drives me most.

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