SCIENTISTS have discovered a potential new and simple way to stop the spread of melanoma that could improve cancer survival rates.
Melanoma can be deadly because of its ability to quickly spread to other parts of the body.
The research findings have “enormous implications” for cancer patients, Kiarash Khosrotehrani of University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute says.
“It is actually fairly simple,” Professor Khosrotehrani says.
For tumours to spread, they have to have a blood supply and those blood vessels are the way tumours spread to the other parts of the body.
“Those blood vessels are formed initially by an influx of stem cells and that is the crunch of our study,” he says.
Professor Khosrotehrani said by identifying the mechanics of how a tumour formed and spread, scientists could “switch the cells off” by blocking blood vessel development.
“Directly targeting the stem cells that form these blood vessels is a new approach that could make the difference.”
A drug already on the market has been used to slow down the stem cells and effectively stop the whole process of metastasis, he says.
“Our research has the potential of offering something to patients, that once we cut a tumour out we can give them something to stop the formation of these blood vessels and the spread of a tumour.
“If we can do that, we can probably improve their survival rate in the long term.”
Researcher Jatin Patel said melanoma’s ability to quickly spread from the skin to other parts of the body was what made it so deadly.
“We know that before tumours spread to places like lymph nodes or lungs, the body starts growing extra blood vessels in these areas – almost as if preparing special ‘niches’ for the cancer,” Dr Patel said.
Their next study will focus on blocking the development of these niches.
“If the body doesn’t prepare them, then the cancer won’t grow there.”
The next step is a clinical trial to test the ability of the drug to stop these stem cells forming blood vessels.