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Using genetics to identify opportunities for new skin cancer treatments

By Dr Francis Hunter

Dr Francis Hunter has been funded $221,527 to support his research.

Dr Francis Hunter, The University of Auckland

Using genetics to identify opportunities for new skin cancer treatments

New Zealand has the highest rates of malignant melanoma (an aggressive type of skin cancer) in the world.

Previous studies have shown that some malignant melanomas are caused by alterations within the NRAS gene. Malignant melanomas caused by this alteration to the NRAS gene are associated with a high risk of the disease spreading to the brain. Also, if the standard immunotherapy fails, there are currently no effective drugs available for patients with this form of malignant melanoma.

In this study, the researchers will compare melanoma cells with the altered NRAS gene to melanoma cells without the altered NRAS gene to identify genetic dependencies in these cells that may be amenable to targeting with new treatments. They will use technologies that can alter the structure of the DNA and analyse the DNA sequence (determine the order of the four chemical building blocks that make up the DNA molecule) in order to identify genetic vulnerabilities in this specific type of cancer.

How will it help people affected by cancer?

This study will help improve our understanding of the role genetics plays in the development of malignant melanomas. If the research group discover genetic vulnerabilities within the melanoma cells, these could present potential new drug targets to aid future treatment of the disease.