Hunter role in global melanoma research

IT is the lack of a certain molecule in cells – rather than a surplus or mutations – that could be a major cause of melanoma, Hunter researchers have found.

Hunter Medical Research Institute Professor Xu Dong Zhang and University of Newcastle molecular biologist Dr Rick Thorne are among 21 scientists from 10 institutes in Australia and China who have discovered the role of a molecule responsible for a chain reaction that leads to melanoma.

The results of the three-year study will be published today in the online journal Nature Communications.

The team looked at melanoma cells and found that instead of having a surplus of mutated genes, they were short on a molecule called PIB5PA, which kept the cell normal.

This loss activated a chain-reaction called Akt, which occurred in up to 70per cent of melanomas.

“The pathway plays an important role in the development of melanomas and in their progression and resistance to treatment,’’ Professor Zhang said.

‘‘It has the potential to apply to other cancers.’’

Researchers found they could inhibit the growth of melanoma cells, and even shrink them, by restoring PIB5PA levels.

Professor Zhang said that while it was an interesting discovery, human treatments were a long way off.

The team is now exploring targeted approaches to blocking the Akt pathway.

‘‘The critical thing is we can restore the expression of this protein,’’ he said.

‘‘If we can form some drug or compound which can restore the expression of the protein, it will inhibit the chain reaction.’’

Researchers are looking into melanoma because of its prevalence in Australia and the Hunter, in particular.

The Hunter has the fourth-highest number of new cases of all the health regions in NSW.

Each year 405 Hunter residents are diagnosed with melanoma and 51 will die.

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