Edith Cowan University develops melanoma blood test
PERTH scientists have developed the world’s first blood test that can detect early-stage melanoma and could save thousands of lives.
The Edith Cowan University breakthrough comes after a trial of 105 people with melanoma. It found the blood test could pick up early melanoma in about 80 per cent of cases.
The test detects the auto-antibodies the body produces in response to the melanoma.
Australia has the second highest rate of melanoma in the world, with 14,000 new diagnoses and almost 2000 deaths a year.
Lead researcher Pauline Zaenker, of ECU’s Melanoma Research Group, said patients whose melanoma was detected early had a five-year survival rate of 90 to 99 per cent.
“If it is not caught early and spreads around the body, the five-year survival rate drops to less than 50 per cent,” she said.
“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.”
Melanoma is usually found by a visual scan by a clinician, with any concerning areas of skin excised for a biopsy.
Ms Zaenker said the blood test could give doctors a powerful new tool to detect melanoma before it spread.
“While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic as three out of four come back negative for melanoma,” she said.
“The biopsies are quite invasive. They are also costly.”
The Australian health system spends $201 million on melanoma a year with another $73 million on negative biopsies.
Melanoma WA chief executive Clinton Heal has had 34 secondary tumours removed since he was diagnosed with melanoma at age 22.
“My primary melanoma was not detected early and I believe a simple blood test could have drastically improved my diagnosis and treatment,” he said.
Professor Mel Ziman, who heads ECU’s melanoma work, said a follow-up clinical trial to confirm the findings — which could take three years — was being organised.
“If this is successful, we would hope to be able to have a test ready for use in pathology clinics shortly afterwards,” she said. “The ultimate goal is for this blood test to be used to provide greater diagnostic certainty prior to biopsy.”