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 Nov 18, 2016

Melanoma Blood Test Saves Lives

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute  has become the first laboratory in Australia to be NATA accredited for a breakthrough technology to perform blood tests for melanoma patients to detect and analyse cancer genes. This new approach is already saving lives.

Due to media coverage we have received a number of enquiries regarding access to this test. All enquiries should be made by a treating oncologist or doctor on behalf of their patient. Enquiries can be directed to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute. Reception +61 3 9496 5726 or email epicandx@onjcri.org.au .

This new blood test is called a liquid biopsy, because it can often replace the need for a much slower, and often invasive, surgical biopsy. From a blood sample, researchers can identify whether a melanoma patient will respond to a specific treatment, and also learn when a treatment stops working and new treatment options need to be explored.

Medical Director of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre and ONJCRI, Professor Jonathan Cebon said “These tests are done quickly, and without surgery so there is no pain and reduced anxiety for the patient. We can make treatment recommendations sooner and we can monitor treatment response regularly rather than waiting for the next scan, which might be months away.”

The breakthrough technology in use is called Droplet Digital PCR (ddPCR). It allows researchers to screen a large quantity of molecules from a blood sample, allowing detection of gene mutations for a particular type of cancer.

Olivia Newton-John’s Cancer Research Institute A/ Prof. Alex Dobrovic says of the technology within his laboratory, “We can now find the information a clinician needs to make the right treatment recommendation for certain cancer types such as melanoma and lung cancer in less than three days.”

In a recent case, a patient at the ONJ Centre with metastatic melanoma in his liver was rapidly declining, expected to have days to live. A liquid biopsy was taken, and researchers in A/Prof. Dobrovic’s laboratory performed the test in less than 6 hours to test whether the patient had a specific mutation in a gene called BRAF. This discovery allowed Professor Cebon to prescribe a drug that immediately inhibited the growth of the cancer.

The research leading to accreditation for melanoma liquid biopsies is part of the internationally renowned and multi-institutional Melbourne Melanoma Project (MMP), supported by the Victorian Government through the Victorian Cancer Agency Translational Research Project Grants.

Professor Grant MacArthur, Director of the Melanoma and Skin Service at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Chief Investigator of the MMP said “We’re committed to research that can be rapidly translated into new approaches that improve health outcomes for patients in Victoria. This is very clearly illustrated by the BRAF liquid biopsy.”

The use of liquid biopsies in the clinic is anticipated to increase, facilitating the arrival of a burgeoning new trend in oncology called personalised medicine, expected to revolutionise the future of diagnosis and treatment.

Prof. Jonathan Cebon said “Because every patient is different, they respond to treatment differently. The easier we can obtain information about the individual patient, the more precise we can be in our treatment recommendation. We expect to see liquid biopsy become a standard option for a number of cancer types in the next few years.”

Answers to questions commonly asked by patients.

If you are a doctor or oncologist with specific questions about the liquid biopsy service at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, please contact epicandx@onjcri.org.au.

About the Melbourne Melanoma Project

The Melbourne Melanoma Project (MMP) began in 2010. It is a collaborative project encompassing the melanoma units at: the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Austin Health; the Victorian Melanoma Service, Alfred Hospital; and Border Medical Oncology, Wodonga. The project is funded by the Victorian Cancer Agency. The Principal Investigator is Professor Grant McArthur. MMP was recently awarded Melanoma Patients Australia Not for Profit Organisation of the year and is committed to research of high priority to melanoma patients as identified by the projects consumer representatives. MMP initiatives are led by 21 co-investigators, including consumer representatives, and 22 collaborators working on the current initiative.

About the Victorian Cancer Agency

The Victorian Cancer Agency has a responsibility for building cancer research capacity and capability across Victoria. Its aim is to invest in projects and initiatives that rapidly translate research into treatments and approaches that will improve clinical practice and care of cancer patients.

For further enquiries please contact:

Karen Gallagher, Marketing & Communications Director

Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre

Karen.gallagher@onjcri.org.au