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Targeting melanoma at its source

Targeting melanoma at its source

8 August 2008

A team of cancer researchers at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington has teamed up with scientists at the Ludwig Institute in Melbourne, to develop novel treatments for melanoma.

The $1 million research programme is funded by the Melanoma Research Alliance, a new USA-based organisation formed under the auspices of the Milken Institute, a non-partisan, independent think-tank that works to make a difference in the lives of people worldwide by helping create a more democratic and efficient global economy.

The Melanoma Research Alliance is backed by significant private philanthropy and supports ambitious molecular and immunological research projects that will transform the clinical management of patients with melanoma.

The collaborative research programme builds on observations that germ cell markers called CT antigens re-emerge in a small number of melanoma cells, and that these markers can be targeted by the patient’s own immune system, resulting in tumour-free survival.

“Because very few melanoma cells express these antigens, the results suggest that melanoma is populated by a small population of rogue ‘stem cells’,” said Professor Mike Berridge, Head of the Malaghan Institute Cancer Cell & Molecular Biology group.

“In contrast to normal stem cells used to build new tissues, and embryonic stem cells, cancer stem cells are thought to be the ‘bad guys’ that give rise to rapidly growing tumours, and are likely responsible for tumour spread or metastasis.

” At the Malaghan Institute, a research team led by Prof Berridge and involving Dr Ian Hermans and Dr Melanie McConnell, will investigate immune responses against melanoma stem cells.

Prof Berridge said: “This is a Global Team Science Award, led by Professor Jonathan Cebon in Melbourne, but also involving research teams in New York and South Africa.

For several years now, we have been developing cancer stem cell models for drug targeting and were one of the first groups in the world to show the presence of germ cell markers on stem cells.”

“Our expertise in stem cell biology and translational cancer immunotherapy will enable us to rapidly take research findings into the clinic.”

“The immune system has untapped powers to fight cancer,” said Prof Berridge. “What we need is a more complete understanding of how to unleash these powers for the benefit of cancer patients.”


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