Women of MIA lead the way in melanoma research at SMR

Women of MIA lead the way in melanoma research at SMR

31 October 2018

The Society for Melanoma Research championed women from all sectors of melanoma research at its International Congress in Manchester. Unsurprisingly, Melanoma Institute Australia had a strong contingent of women presenting at SMR, including our Co-Medical Director Professor Georgina Long who, in a double world first, took over as the first female and first Australian President of SMR.

The Congress opened with a keynote presentation from Associate Professor Jennifer Wargo from MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas, who spoke on the benefits of teamwork and collaboration in advancing melanoma therapy. During the mid-morning plenary session, Professor Long presented exciting results from the KEYNOTE-029 1B study.

MIA PhD student Tuba Nur Gide presented some pioneering research regarding signatures of response and resistance in patients receiving immunotherapy. Looking at the genes expressed in melanoma samples from MIA patients, she found that genes involving immune memory and activation were higher in responders to immunotherapy, whereas non-responders showed higher levels of genes related to tumour adaptation and survival. While examining the immune cells in the tumours of responders, a specific type of T-cell, was found to be a good predictor of response and survival. The study is one of the first to investigate this in the combination therapy cohort.

Poster presentations from a host of MIA’s finest female minds were also on display throughout the Congress. Dr. Jenny Lee presented her research on the use of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) as a predictive marker of relapse and survival. She found that the pre-surgery levels of ctDNA, fragments of DNA from tumour cells that are floating in the bloodstream, could predict survival in Stage III melanoma patients undergoing complete lymph-node dissections.

MIA’s 2018 Medical Oncology Fellow Carina Owen presented on delayed-onset toxicity from anti-PD-1 therapy to highlight the need for clinicians to understand the long-term follow-up requirements of melanoma patients. MIA Biospecimen Bank Manager Valerie Jakrot’s poster presentation detailed the Bank’s role in sample collection, handling, storage and management of neo-adjuvant tissue and blood samples and the associated data.

Dr. Inês da Silva, a clinical researcher working in both medical oncology clinics and the laboratory with Prof Long, had two poster presentations at SMR. In an international collaboration, she developed a model to predict response rate, progression-free survival, overall survival and toxicity for patients on anti-PD-1-based therapies. This model could have a significant impact on clinical care after further study, as it only relied on patient information and a routine blood test. Her second poster presented significant data showing that melanoma patients who develop liver metastases are less responsive to combined immunotherapy with anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 immunotherapy. She found that liver metastases reduce the activity of the immune system, and recommends further study to possibly unlock these mechanisms and discover new drug targets for these patients.

A ‘STEM for Women' initiative, designed to empower women in melanoma research, was also launched at the SMR Congress. Featuring interviews with Professor Long, Associate Professor Wargo and Valerie Jakrot, among other trailblazing women, it aims to advise, support and inspire women in the scientific community.

In the final plenary session, Professor Georgina Long discussed challenge of resistance to melanoma therapies with a ‘call to action’ for all researchers in the field. Her presentation rounded out a Congress which illuminated and emphasised the ground breaking work of female leaders in the melanoma field.