Breakthrough stops melanoma in its tracks
STOPPING the spread of melanoma could be as easy has cutting off the blood supply to the cancer, groundbreaking Queensland research has revealed.
In a major breakthrough, scientists at the University of Queensland's Diamantina Institute have discovered a way to prevent tumours getting the blood supply they need, and believe they can stop the spread of cancer in its tracks.
The scientists have identified stem cells which form blood vessels in tumours, and figured out how to "switch off" these cells.
Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani said the study's findings had enormous implications for cancer patients.
"Blood vessels are vital because tumours can't grow without them - they feed the tumours and allow the cancer to spread," he said.
"If you get rid of these stem cells, then the blood vessels don't form and the tumours don't grow or spread to other locations."
The scientists said being able to block blood vessel development could be useful in treating recently diagnosed patients - and may help to prevent cancer from spreading at an early stage
Melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in young people in Australia, with Queensland holding the unenviable title of the world's skin cancer capital.
The Cancer Council estimates more than 3600 people are diagnosed with melanoma in Queensland every year.
UQ researcher Dr Jatin Patel told The Courier-Mail the study was conducted over 2½ years, and has accelerated quickly meaning clinical trials would be established this year to test a compound to stop the stem cells from forming blood vessels.
"This is a significant discovery for us, and for the field as well and obviously here in Queensland we have a great opportunity to help a lot of patients who suffer from this debilitating disease," he said.
"We're very fortunate in that we can repurpose already existing drugs on the market.
"We've found a specific drug that blocks these vascular stem cells and so this is a significant acceleration or translation of our research really to the clinic and we'll be establishing this clinical trial this year."
Dr Patel said the team envisage that it will be very early treatment for patients following diagnosis, but that it could be potentially lifesaving for those with aggressive melanoma.