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Simple test could reveal uveal melanoma risk

13/06/2018By Matthew Woodley
Patients with uveal melanoma may soon be able to avoid painful and potentially harmful biopsies thanks to a new blood test developed by Australian researchers.

Currently, patients with the rare cancer are required to either have a sample of tissue removed to determine if the tumour will become aggressive or undergo constant monitoring – in some cases for more than 10 years. However, by studying the genetic DNA of tumour cells in the bloodstream, a team from Edith Cowan University in Perth has developed a test that may be able to bypass both the invasive procedure and the years of uncertainty.


“We’ve developed the methodology and shown that we can generate accurate information compared to a biopsy, but we need to upscale it to a larger number of patients.”
Elin Gray, ECU.

“From our interactions with patients and the people affected by the disease, it’s quite troublesome when they don’t know which type they have. Some of them might get monitored by an oncologist for years when they shouldn’t really have to worry about it, because they have the benign type,” lead researcher Dr Elin Gray told Insight.

“We’ve developed the methodology and shown that we can generate accurate information compared to a biopsy, but we need to upscale it to a larger number of patients.”

As cancer cells can sometimes have dysregulation, the test involves looking for additional or missing chromosones to determine a patient’s prognosis. So far Gray, whose research is supported in part by a grant from the Ophthalmic Research Institute Australia (ORIA), has been working with Perth-based ophthalmologist Dr Tim Isaacs to recruit patients to develop the test.

However, the team is now applying for a National Health and Medical Research Council grant to extend it across Australia.

Diagram showing key genetic transformation events and molecular classification of ocular melanoma.
Diagram showing key genetic transformation events and molecular classification of ocular melanoma.

“From our perspective, the value is not only for the doctors and patients, but also in an academic sense. For example, there are clinical trials that treat the patients after they treat the primary tumour in the eye to try and avoid the disease from spreading to the liver,” she explained.

“It’s a pre-emptive therapy – they don’t know if it will spread or not – but it’s better to treat it before it spreads, because so far nothing has been able to cure it once it has. So it’s not only about telling the patients, but getting them into trials to test things that could be curative.”



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