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Australian researchers develop world-first blood test to detect melanoma early


Doug Hendrie


18/07/2018 9:58:40 AM

The world’s first blood test able to detect early stage melanoma has been developed by Edith Cowan University researchers.

Is it or isn’t it?
Is it or isn’t it?

Melanoma is the most lethal of all skin cancers, and Australia has the second highest rate in the world.
 
If detected early, the five-year survival rate is between 90 and 99%, dropping to 50% if it is found after it spreads through the body.
 
The new blood test detects 10 immune system antibodies specific to melanoma, and is 81.5% accurate in detecting early stage melanomas.
 
If the blood test passes a clinical trial of 1000 patients, the breakthrough will potentially save thousands of lives and give GPs more diagnostic certainty.
 
At present, suspicious lesions must be found by visual scan and biopsied. If the new blood test proves itself, it would become a first option for GPs, followed by a biopsy to make certain.
 
The research, reported in an Oncotarget paper, ‘A diagnostic autoantibody signature for primary cutaneous melanoma’ was led by PhD candidate Pauline Zaenker.
 
‘While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic. We know that three out of four biopsies come back negative for melanoma,’ Ms Zaenker said.
 
The new test came from examining 1627 different types of antibodies to identify a combination of 10 antibodies that best indicated the presence of melanoma in confirmed patients relative to healthy volunteers.
 
‘The body starts producing these antibodies as soon as melanoma first develops, which is how we have been able to detect the cancer in its very early stages with this blood test. No other type of biomarker appears to be capable of detecting the cancer in blood at these early stages,’ she said.
 
Melanoma Research Group head, Professor Mel Ziman, told newsGP that she believed the test would be extremely useful to GPs.
 
‘We’re hoping it will be extremely useful and give more diagnostic certainty. Before you do a biopsy, you’ll do the blood test to get an indication of whether to proceed,’ she said.
 
The test can detect melanomas smaller than 1 mm.
 
‘The longer a melanoma is left in the skin, the thicker it grows. As soon as it’s bigger than 1 mm, it’s more dangerous, because it starts to go down to the dermis where it can circulate and become metastatic much more easily,’ she said.  
 
Professor Ziman said the new goal was to get the test’s specificity – the number of accurate positive results – up to 90%.
 
She estimates it will take three years for the blood test to be clinically trialled.



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