ECU Joondalup researcher leading team in Cancer Council WA study


ECU Joondalup researcher Elin Gray. Picture: Martin Kennealey
ECU Joondalup researcher Elin Gray. Picture: Martin Kennealey

CANCER cells in the blood of melanoma patients could contain information to guide treatment and avoid biopsies, according to a cancer researcher in Joondalup.

Elin Gray, a postdoctoral research fellow in the school of medical and health sciences at ECU Joondalup, is leading a $43,000 Cancer Council WA collaborative research grant.

The research investigates how cancer cells communicate with other cells by examining the blood of people with melanoma, which is the most aggressive type of skin cancer.

Dr Gray is working with Katie Meehan at UWA, Jason Whiteman from Telethon Kids Institute and Tarek Meniawy at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

“As a team we want to maximise the success rate of melanoma treatment by understanding the biology of how the cancer cells and the immune system communicate,” she said.

“Together we’re combining our expertise to test for the exosomes, small vesicles derived from the tumour that can be found in the blood, which can tell a lot about what’s going on with a tumour and what level of disease a patient may have.

“If we can find more information in the blood of patients it could be useful in diagnosing the disease or guiding treatment for melanoma patients.

“This could reduce the need for a more invasive biopsy procedure, which is better for the patient.”

One aim of the study is to investigate whether the cancer cells can transfer resistance to treatment from one cell to another.

Dr Gray said the team was also analysing if those exosomes influenced the immune response to the tumour.

“We know the immune response is critical for controlling the tumour growth so it therefore provides a guide for treatment and can enhance the response to immunotherapy,” she said.

“We’re also keen to investigate if we can use exosomes to enhance the way a patient will respond to treatment.”

The research team wants to understand if these exosomes change once a patient commences treatment and whether they can act as a ‘predictor’ to indicate if a particular treatment will be effective for a particular type of patient.

The grant is part of a Collaborative Cancer Grant Scheme for early to mid-career investigators jointly funded by Cancer Council WA, WA Government, Curtin University, ECU, UWA, Telethon Kids Institute and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

It is part of $4 million in cancer research funding announced recently by Cancer Council WA.