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World’s largest melanoma research biobank helps solve cancer riddle

August 12, 2016

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) Melanoma Laboratories at Westmead Institute of Medical Research enable data and tissue samples provided by Westmead melanoma patients to be part of the largest melanoma research biobank collections in the world.

These tumour samples help to drive efforts to understand why treatments work or don’t work, and to provide the means for the discovery of the next generation of effective therapies.

The biobank was started in Westmead Institute as a partnership with Melanoma Institute Australia and the laboratories were established by a AUD $5M grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

To date, researchers at the have helped discover the first gene that causes a high risk of melanoma. The Institute’s co-director of cancer research, Professor Graham Mann and his team then went on to discover most of the 20 gene variations identified to date that, together with sun exposure, determine melanoma risk in the community.

A further practical outcome of the team’s research has been the ground breaking discovery that artificial sunbeds were boosting melanoma rates in Australia, especially in young people. As a result, the NSW Government instigated bans on the use of commercial solariums which are now replicated around Australia.

The Westmead Institute is at the forefront of translational melanoma research and has been involved in the world’s first trials of the new generation of mutation targeted therapy and immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs. The outcomes of these trials have brought new hope to melanoma patients in recent years.

Professor Mann said that the next challenge is to identify and understand the many genetic variations of melanoma and why they result in different treatment responses in individual patients.

“We are increasingly confident that the drugs we are using now are benefiting most people, even with extensive melanoma. It’s exciting to have made this exceptional progress,” said Professor Mann.

“But we still need more options because existing treatments don’t work on everyone; and we need smarter testing so that we can quickly identify which drug is more likely to work for a particular patient. There is a way to go yet, but we are determined to make melanoma a treatable disease for everyone. State of the art labs like the ACRF Melanoma Laboratories at The Westmead Institute are what will get us there,” said Professor Mann at the official opening of the laboratories today.

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