£100k boost for eye cancer research

Researchers from the University of Liverpool have been awarded £100k from the eye research charity ‘Fight for Sight’ to identify new treatments that could improve survival rates for an eye cancer called uveal melanoma.

Uveal melanoma is a rare cancer of the eye involving the iris, ciliary body, or choroid (collectively referred to as the uvea). Tumours arise from the pigment cells that reside within the uvea, which give colour to the eye.

Although the treatment of the primary eye cancer is successful in most cases, unfortunately in up to 50% of patients, aggressive tumour cells can spread to the liver causing the development of a secondary cancer. This process is strongly associated with changes in the BAP1 gene in the tumour cells. At present there is no successful treatment of secondary uveal melanoma in the liver.

Better understanding

Researchers from the University’s Institute of Translational Medicine, led by Professor Judy Coulson and Professor Sarah Coupland, will be analysing tumour samples taken from patients treated at the Liverpool Ocular Oncology Centre to gain a better understanding about the role of mutation in a gene known as BAP1 in the development and spread of uveal melanoma. The underlying changes that result from mutation of this gene will then be targeted with drugs that could improve survival rates for patients.

The hope is that the study will identify drugs as candidates for future clinical trials that could lead to a new treatment for uveal melanoma patients.

Professor Judy Coulson, said: “We don’t yet understand the role of BAP1 gene in uveal melanoma but we know that by uncovering the changes that occur following mutation we can help to identify drugs that will stop the spread of cancer. The results from this research project could in future lead to potential therapies for this eye cancer, and thereby improve patient survival.”

Vital research 

Through establishing the changes that occur in uveal melanoma cells without a functioning BAP1 gene the researchers will uncover the proteins needed for the survival of these cancer cells. This knowledge will be used to identify drugs that are likely to prevent the growth and spread of the cancer cells from the eye.

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation from Fight for Sight, said: “This is really important research to better understand the role of the BAP1 gene in this eye cancer, which mainly affects adults. The research from this project could lead to the identification of a drug therapy that could prevent the growth and spread of this condition.

“Currently there are no available therapies to prevent the spread of uveal melanoma to other parts of the body or to treat it, once it has spread. So, it’s vital that we start identifying options as soon as possible that may benefit patients.”

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