ECU research sparks international interest

Researchers at Edith Cowan University are seeking funding and international partners to advance the roll out a world first blood test that detects melanoma in the early stages.

The ground-breaking blood test, which has the potential to save thousands of lives and was revealed by researchers in July, detected melanoma in 79 per cent of cases in an early stage trial of 105 people with the cancer.

Head of ECU’s Melanoma Research Group Professor Mel Ziman said a large clinical trial involving 1000 participants was the next step towards rolling the test out to the public.

She said clinicians across the country would participate in the trial by collected blood samples from patients at the time biopsies were performed on suspected melanomas.

Ziman said the blood test had attracted international interest but was still about five years away from commercialisation.

“We have had companies and clinicians, world leading dermatologists contact me to say that they would love to be involved,” she says.

“They look at melanoma patients all day and they think a blood test would be hugely helpful to identify early stage melanoma. We’ve had companies internationally contact us, they want to be involved and want to help to build the test.”

Ziman said funding and partnerships were essential for the research with $3 million needed to get the blood test (MelDx) ready for commercialisation.

“We don’t have the money to continue. Our funding has been used up in the initial trial to get us to this point and now we need serious money to take it to the next step with our 1000 participants and our national and international collaborators. It is vitally important,” she says.

“We’ve had a number of companies internationally contact us to say they are interested in helping us to develop the test, so we are developing some relationships with a group of people from different international companies to work out who would be the best to take this forward.”

Ziman says the international coverage following the announcement of the world first has been unexpected: “I just cannot believe the interest this has sparked. We were on CNN, Sky News, French Radio, South African Radio, Spanish news USA, it was incredible.”

She says the human impact of the disease is front of mind for herself and the other three researchers who have been working full-time on the project.

“We’ve been inundated with calls from patients congratulating us on our work and wanting to participate. There’s been a huge groundswell of support from patients right around the world, it’s been tremendous,” Ziman says.

“You can feel the urgent need that people have for something to identify melanoma early to stop the terrible spread of this disease.

“I have lost dear friends and that has really driven me because we have to stop this before it gets to metastatic stages. It is absolutely preventable, if we stay out of the sun 99 per cent of melanomas are preventable.”

More than 14,000 diagnoses of the highly malignant and aggressive skin cancer are made annually in Australia, resulting in about 2000 deaths.

Postdoctoral researcher Pauline Zaenker, who collected all the blood samples throughout the trials, said it was exciting to be part of a world first but said there was still a lot of work to do.

“The frustrating thing with melanoma is it is so curable. If you catch it early, you are good,” she says.

► To find out more about the research and how to help ECU, a valued CCI Member, visit here

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