Patients paying it forward

Patients paying it forward

19 July 2021

We often acknowledge the incredible researchers, clinicians and nurses who save lives and push our understanding of melanoma further than we’ve ever been before. It is also important to acknowledge the fundamental role our patients play in these discoveries.

Every day, patients who attend Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and our partner organisations donate something incredibly special to our research: their tissue samples and clinical records. Without these generous donations to our Biospecimen Bank and Melanoma Research Database, we simply couldn’t do the ground-breaking research that we’re doing.

So all our patients deserve a heartfelt thank you for helping to make a difference to the lives of future melanoma patients.   

Although there have been countless research projects that our patients have contributed to over the years, we wanted to showcase some recently published research to demonstrate how these precious donations are helping us find better treatments for future melanoma patients.

Immunotherapies (like nivolumab, ipilimumab and pembrolizumab) have significantly improved the survival of patients with advanced melanoma in recent years. However, around half of patients do not respond to these treatments. Our researchers wanted to find out why this happens, and which patients fit into this group.  

Why do some patients not respond to immunotherapy?

Our researchers trawled through our records to select patients whose advanced melanoma progressed despite being treated with immunotherapy. Once identified, they utilised the patients’ corresponding tumour samples in our Biospecimen Bank to underpin further research.

The researchers looked closely at the clinical, genetic and immune profiles and found two distinct groups of patients: those who progressed and those who rapidly progressed.

They found that in patients whose disease spread more rapidly than the other group, their tumours had fewer immune cells surrounding the tumour (termed ‘cold’ tumours) compared to those with a lot of immune activity (termed ‘hot’ tumours). These patients who rapidly progress also tended to have more genetic mutations (specifically BRAF mutations) compared to the other group.

Their findings, recently published in the journal Cancers, ultimately give greater clarity to the distinct mechanisms involved in the development of resistance to melanoma treatments in different patient groups and the need to develop a more personalised approach to therapy.

Can we predict which patients will respond to immunotherapy?

As not all melanoma patients will respond to immunotherapy, being able to identify the most appropriate drug for each patient before commencing treatment is of great benefit. By understanding the subtle variations between patients at the cellular level, we can start to personalise medicine for each patient.

In a study recently published in Frontiers in Immunology and using patient data from MIA and two other Australian melanoma centres, researchers identified characteristics of the immune cells that align with patients responding more favourably to immunotherapy treatment.

“Given how complex the immune response is to tumour cells, it is not surprising that no single biomarker can predict if a patient will respond to treatment,” said Professor Richard Scolyer AO, study author and Co-Medical Director of Melanoma Institute Australia. “However, if we pull together all the different factors involved and how they affect response to treatment, we can potentially develop a model or algorithm to find which patients are most suited to which treatment.”

Supporting research

In addition to donating tissue samples and their clinic records for our research, our patients and the community also help progress our research by supporting it financially. Donations supplement the limited and highly competitive research grants we receive from the Government. One such example is Associate Professor Alex Menzies who was involved in both of the research studies mentioned above, and whose work is supported by Nicholas and Helen Moore, as well as our community donors.

So, a huge thank you from all of us at MIA to our patients, their families and all our donors for being such an important part of our research and making lives better for future melanoma patients.

 

For more information, please contact:

Jennifer Durante - Melanoma Institute Australia - Ph 0412 798 990 Email: jennifer.durante@melanoma.org.au

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