A MAJOR international collaboration between scientists investigating the survival of melanoma skin cancer patients will begin at the University of Leeds later this year.
Professor Julia Newton-Bishop from the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, part of the University of Leeds’ School of Medicine, will lead the further development of a consortium called BioGenoMEL, involving research groups across Europe and North America who have collected DNA samples from many thousands of melanoma patients.
An initial one-year project, funded by a £50,000 award from Yorkshire Cancer Research, will allow Prof Newton-Bishop and her team of experts to pool these datasets from around the world and use them to identify genes that determine patient survival following surgery.
Prof Newton-Bishop said: “Melanoma is a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. Our hypothesis is that after a tumour is removed during surgery, some undetected cancer cells may be left in the body, and while some people’s bodies are able to inhibit the growth of these cells, some cannot.
“If we can find inherited genes that determine how the body controls these cells, we can open the way to new treatments for melanoma and possibly even other cancers as well. It is a novel approach.”
Smaller studies previously led by Prof Newton-Bishop have suggested that inherited variations in two specific genes could play a significant role in determining whether or not a skin cancer patient will survive. These results will be checked in the larger study.
The consortium will also look at the role of lifestyle in skin cancer survival. Earlier investigations carried out in Leeds showed that people with low levels of Vitamin D in their bloodstream when they were diagnosed with melanoma were more likely to have thicker tumours, which are more difficult to treat, and seemed to be less likely to survive more than three years after diagnosis.
The studies suggested that having sufficient levels of vitamin D might be very important for melanoma patients but more evidence is required before recommendations can be made. The new collaboration with scientists across the world will mean this work can be validated using huge datasets, and also allow other determining genes to be investigated.
Prof Newton-Bishop said: “The only way we can validate our previous research, and find other factors which determine patients’ survival, is by collaborating in a multi-national study. Running a big consortium and working together for a long time is no mean achievement when scientists are natural competitors for funding.
“We need to prove we can share our knowledge and skills, work together and gather evidence to back-up our ideas before we can go on to compete for international grants, and we are extremely grateful to Yorkshire Cancer Research for giving us the opportunity to do this, particularly in these difficult financial times.”
Written and supplied by Yorkshire Cancer Research