Enhancing the response to immunotherapy in melanoma

Enhancing the response to immunotherapy in melanoma

Australia has one of the highest melanoma rates in the world. Almost 14,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in 2017.*

Surgery can be very effective in early Stage 1 melanoma, and the prognosis is excellent with
five-year rates of survival at 90 per cent. Rates drop to nine to 18 per cent for Stage IV metastatic melanoma.

Until recently, chemotherapy was the only treatment available for some Stage III and Stage IV melanoma patients, with poor response rates.

However, immunotherapy is emerging as a modern success story in the treatment of cancer.

Immunotherapy uses parts of a person’s immune system to fight cancer, slowing its growth and spread and helping the immune system destroy existing cancer cells. This therapy achieves a durable clinical response—a long-lasting positive reaction—in a range of cancer types, including melanoma. Yet despite recent successes for melanoma patients, immunotherapy remains ineffective for at least 60 per cent of this group.

Associate Professor Kristen Radford and her team at Mater Research are working to understand why these patients do not respond by investigating the role of a rare specialised white blood cell, the dendritic cell (DC). Dendritic cells come in a variety of types, with particular sub-populations driving specific immune responses. The biology of DC sub-populations is poorly characterised in the context of cancer.

A/Prof Radford has previously pioneered the development of novel methods to isolate and study rare human DC subsets, and has devoted most of her career to understanding DC biology and developing DC based cancer vaccines. Her early research developed and validated a new DC vaccine for prostate cancer and she was a key player in the Phase 1 clinical trial of this therapeutic vaccine.

Her melanoma research, Human dendritic cells and their role in anti-cancer immune response in melanoma, aims to investigate the role of dendritic cells in tumour regression. She is also looking to undertake the first comprehensive study of DC sub-populations in melanoma patients both in their peripheral blood, and at their tumour site.

The data collected could be used to determine a way to enhance immune responses to a person’s melanoma. This exciting study will move the Mater Research team one step closer to revolutionising melanoma treatment not only in Australia, but around the world.

“I undertook a career in medical research because I am passionate about understanding how our immune response recognises and fights cancer and dedicated to translating basic science knowledge to improving outcomes for cancer patients.”

This research from A/Prof Radford and her team is ultimately targeting the development of a ‘next generation’ vaccination strategy. If successful, a therapeutic vaccine, which treats the cancer rather than preventing it, could be developed to activate an anti-cancer immune response in the bodies of all melanoma patients.

Research is the most important tool we have in the fight against some of the major challenges facing healthcare today. Show your support for vital medical research, like Associate Professor Radford’s, by purchasing your Mater Cars for Cancer lottery tickets today.                                                                                                                               

*Source: melanoma.org.au

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