Unmasking melanoma early

There’s a new diagnostic tool being developed to target melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer with which more than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed each year.

Unmasking melanoma early
The red arrows show a melanoma tumour. The PET/CT scan on the right shows how the MEL050 tracer highlights the location, size and spread of melanoma. Credit: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
It’s a chemical compound designed to highlight small traces of these cancer cells in the body.

Melanoma occurs when the cells that make melanin, the dark pigment normally found in the skin, become cancerous. Melanoma cells often spread elsewhere in the body before the primary tumours are detected and removed surgically. Clusters of these melanoma cells can be hard to detect before they grow into tumours by which time they are often incurable.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Biomedical Imaging Development (CRCBID) has developed a radiopharmaceutical called MEL050, which has shown promise at highlighting all cells that contain melanin. As melanomas usually contain melanin, a PET/CT scan using MEL050 as a tracer can reveal a three dimensional image of small clusters of tumour cells that may be invisible to conventional imaging scans.

CRCBID CEO Dr Gerry Roe says the first human trials of the tracer are almost complete. “We’ve even been able to show a normal melanin-containing structure in the back of the eye, even though it is just a few cells thick. We hope to demonstrate that we can find small clusters of melanin-containing cells, or metastases, because early detection has important implications for subsequent treatment selection.”

Dr Roe says the development of these tracers might provide important information to assist with the development and application of new, improved therapies for lethal cases of melanoma.

Photo: The red arrows show a melanoma tumour. The PET/CT scan on the right shows how the MEL050 tracer highlights the location, size and spread of melanoma.
Credit: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

CRC for Biomedical Imaging Development, Gerry Roe, gerry.roe@crcbid.com.au, www.crcbid.com.au