Understanding how melanoma adapts to spread and seed new tumours
Professor Victoria Sanz-Moreno and her team are trying to understand how melanoma cells adapt to survive in other places in the body and seed new tumours. They hope to reveal weaknesses in that process and uncover new ways to stop melanoma from spreading.
Hope for the future
Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that affects almost 325,000 people worldwide every year. All cancers are easiest to treat when caught early and before they have spread, however melanoma can spread even from an early stage. Targeted therapies and immunotherapies can help extend the lives of these patients, but more research needs to be done to successfully treat melanoma that has spread.
Professor Sanz-Moreno and her team are studying how melanoma cells adapt to survive in different places in the body, allowing them to spread and seed new tumours away from the original melanoma. They hope that by understanding how melanoma cells change their structure and function to spread they will uncover weaknesses in that process, which will pave the way for new treatments that can stop the spread of melanoma.
Meet the scientist
When not in the lab, Professor Sanz-Moreno enjoys listening to music, going to the theatre, watching a good movie and trying food from around the world (especially Dim Sum). Her favourite book is Don Quixote and favourite sport is skiing.
In order for melanoma cells to spread to other parts of the body, they need to be able to survive in very different conditions to those where the tumour started. The varying nutrients and chemicals and types of tissue in a new part of the body can prevent cancer cells from working properly or from being able to move through them properly.
Melanoma cells change their internal ‘skeleton’ and the way they function to be able to survive and move to different places. When this happens, they also stop responding to immunotherapies and other drugs. Professor Sanz-Moreno have been studying the process that allows this change to happen. Her team have found that some cells at the edges of melanomas are especially adaptable and could be responsible for the development of resistance to therapies.
Professor Sanz-Moreno and her team are now working to understand the underlying process that causes melanoma cells to adapt, including how changes in the structure of tissue influences cells to change. They will use human melanoma cells grown in 3D tissue structures in the lab, which will give them a more realistic view of how melanoma cells behave in these environments. They hope that this will lead them to discover weaknesses that could be exploited in the future as new ways to prevent melanoma spreading.
When I was at University, my grandma died from stomach cancer. We were very close, and it happened fast and unexpectedly. I decided then that I wanted to contribute to the understanding of cancer for the rest of my life.Professor Victoria Sanz-Moreno
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