Australian scientists have created a breakthrough blood test to detect melanoma

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • Australian researchers have developed a world-first blood test to detect deadly melanoma in early stage patients.
  • They say the breakthrough that will save thousands of lives, as well as millions of dollars for the health system.
  • Australia has almost 2000 deaths a year from melanoma.

Researchers at Perth’s Edith Cowan University have developed the world’s first blood test to detect melanoma in its early stages, a breakthrough which could save thousands of lives.

Australians are four times more likely to develop a cancer of the skin than any other type of cancer. Australia has the second highest rate of melanoma in the world, with 14,000 new diagnoses and almost 2000 deaths each year.

The new blood test, in a trial involving 105 people with melanoma and 104 healthy controls, was able to detect early stage melanoma in 81.5% of cases.

Early detection of melanoma, a cancer in the parts of the body overexposed to the sun, increases the survival rate. Those who have melanoma detected in its early stage have a five year survival rate between 90% and 99%.

If it is not caught early and it spreads around the body, the five year survival rate drops to less than 50%.

The main way melanoma is currently detected is by a visual scan with any areas of skin that are of concern excised and sent for a biopsy.

“This is what makes this blood test so exciting as a potential screening tool because it can pick up melanoma in its very early stages when it is still treatable,” says Pauline Zaenker, lead researcher and PhD candidate.

“While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic. We know that three out of four biopsies come back negative for melanoma.

“The biopsies are quite invasive, with a minimum of 1cm by 1cm of skin excised from the patient.

“They are also costly, with previous research showing that the Australian health system spends $201 million on melanoma each year with an additional $73 million on negative biopsies.”

The blood test works by detecting the autoantibodies the body produces in response to the melanoma.

“The body starts producing these antibodies as soon as melanoma first develops which is how we have been able to detect the cancer in its very early stages with this blood test. No other type of biomarker appears to be capable of detecting the cancer in blood at these early stages.” Ms Zaenker says.

The researchers looked at 1627 different types of antibodies to identify a combination of 10 that best indicated the presence of melanoma.

A follow up clinical trial is being organised to validate the findings.

This could take about three years with a test ready for use shortly after that.

The development of the blood test was funded through a $452,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council and a $200,000 grant from Tour de Cure Australia will be used to progress the research.

The results from the study, A diagnostic autoantibody signature for primary cutaneous melanoma, has been published in the journal Oncotarget.

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