Griffith University researchers and Gold Coast Melanoma Clinic physicians have taken their first sample from a melanoma sufferer, which will be used to discover new therapies needed to stop the deadly disease from spreading.

Griffith’sInstitute for Glycomics Director, Professor Mark von Itzstein, said in the next few years the organisation hoped to build a cell bank with up to 100 samples from patients on the Gold Coast diagnosed with different stages of melanoma.

“We have spent the past two years preparing for the project, so getting the first sample from the Gold Coast Melanoma Clinic is a significant step for us,” he said.

Gold Coast Melanoma Clinic Director Dr Nic Crampton said it was a great step forward for melanoma research, not only for the Gold Coast but for the whole of Queensland and the northern New South Wales region.

“The Melanoma Clinic is able to provide the vital link between laboratory research and melanoma patients” he said.

Targeting cancer cell growth

Prof von Itzstein explained that researchers intended to investigate the importance of sugars that decorate the surface of the cancerous cells to find new ways to stop melanomas from growing and spreading throughout the body.

“Melanoma cells have specific sugars that cover their surface and the pattern of those sugars change through the various stages of cancer. For example, before a cancer begins to spread throughout the body, or metastasise, there is a certain sugar that presents itself on the cell surface,” he said.

“We intend to target these changes in sugar patterns on cancer cells at the various stages to see if we are able to stop that stage from progressing.”

Prof von Itzstein said the research was particularly relevant to the area where it was being conducted since the Gold Coast and Queensland were melanoma hot spots.

“There is already a melanoma cell bank in NSW. But we strongly believe having local samples as part of a local study, where melanoma rates were at their highest, was important,” he said.

“Any results that we get, will be shared around the world.”

More than 13,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in Australia in 2016. Australia and New Zealand have the highest melanoma rates in the world and in Queensland 71 people out of every 100,000 (for the years 2009-2013) have been diagnosed with melanoma, which is well above other places in Australia and around the world.

Dr Crampton said he was looking forward to working with The Glycomics Institute and Griffith University in the long term to pursue effective and novel treatments for his melanoma patients.