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Circulating Melanoma Tumour Cells

The research

Melanoma is one of Australia’s most common cancers with over 13,000 new diagnoses per year. In one out of ten patients, the melanoma diagnosis comes too late, as the melanoma has already spread throughout the body, drastically diminishing the chances of survival. With more than 1,700 Australians dying every year from melanoma -one every five hours - we urgently require a better understanding of how the melanoma spreads and why certain tumours respond to current treatments while others do not.

In this project, researchers aim to capture and study the cells responsible for melanoma spreading. These cells, circulating tumour cells (CTCs) are released from the tumour into the blood stream. By studying the cells and the DNA and RNA of these cells, researchers will increase their understanding of how melanoma tumours spread and why some tumours respond to treatment. Using CTCs removes the need for highly invasive tumour biopsies.

ECU’s melanoma research centre has become a reference research centre for the study of CTCs in melanoma, and it has now begun to expand the research to include breast and prostate cancers.

Identifying the patients that will or will not respond to treatment is the goal of the research project moving forward. The team have developed technologies and tools to isolate single melanoma cells from blood and are collaborating with world leaders to sequence DNA from single cells to gain an understanding of the genetic makeup of these tumour-derived cells. The research will indicate how melanoma tumours spread allowing development of further strategies aimed at inhibiting melanoma dissemination.


This project is supported by a dynamic interdisciplinary team of high calibre scientists and clinicians across prestigious research institutions and hospitals in Western Australia, Australia and worldwide. This team includes a network of research-focused clinicians including Winthrop Professor Michael Millward at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Dr Adnan Khattak and Prof Christobel Saunders at Fiona Stanley Hospital, Dr Tarek Meniawy at St John of God Hospital and Dr Sam Bowyer at Rockingham General.  In addition, the research team has established a research collaboration with PathWest for acquisition of tumour tissue samples and DNA sequencing.


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