06:25am Tuesday 07 April 2020

Newcastle researchers at the forefront of melanoma overhaul

Friday 2 September is National Shade Day highlighting the devastating effects of melanoma, reminding people about prevention and championing the latest research developments.

University of Newcastle Associate Professor Xu Dong Zhang and Conjoint Professor Peter Hersey have been part of the research effort that has contributed to the world’s most effective treatment to date for lethal secondary tumours known as metastatic melanomas.

“This new treatment, which is in clinical trials across Australia, the United States and the UK, targets the protein that feeds certain types of metastatic melanomas, attacking them with an oral medication that ‘shuts off’ tumours by neutralising a mutated cancer growth gene called BRAF,” Associate Professor Zhang said.

Conjoint Professor Peter Hersey has been responsible for the introduction of the trials in the Hunter region, which are run from the Newcastle Melanoma Unit. He describes the new BRAF inhibitor treatment as ‘revolutionary.’

“We are getting some great results with the new class of drugs that target BRAF and have also found new research targets to improve outcomes for other metastatic melanoma patients. We hope to eventually find a cure, Professor Hersey said.

Associate Professor Zhang secured grants this year of more than $600,000 from the Cancer Council NSW to investigate the role of BRAF inhibitors in the treatment of melanoma. About 100 patients globally - 30 in Newcastle – have been treated with the revolutionary BRAF drug.

Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, but there is currently no cure to treat melanoma once it has spread beyond the original site on the skin. With over 3,500 new cases diagnosed in NSW every year, melanoma is the most common cancer to kill young and middle-aged females (aged 15-54) in the state.

Newcastle Melanoma Unit is one of three sites in Australia linked to the international research consortium – the others are The Melanoma Institute of Australia’s site at Westmead Hospital in Sydney and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

For more information or interviews with Associate Professor Zhang, Professor Hersey or a Newcastle-based patient contact: University of Newcastle Media and Public Relations officer Tess Campbell on 02 4921 8714.

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