Research to Beat Skin Cancer and Multiple Myeloma - RAH Research Fund

Research to Beat Skin Cancer and Multiple Myeloma

Thanks to your generous support, Dr Lisa Ebert, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB) is pursuing vital research on two heartbreaking cancers affecting thousands of Australians each year – multiple myeloma and melanoma.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which usually occurs on the parts of the body that have been overexposed to the sun which creates DNA damage to skin cells. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow.

Dr Ebert’s research aims to better understand immunotherapy, a type of cancer treatment designed to increase the body’s natural defences to fight cancer. As part of her research on melanoma, Dr Ebert is studying patients being treated with ‘checkpoint blockade’ immunotherapy.

This form of immunotherapy involves giving patients a cancer drug (called pembrolizumab) that delays the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body.

It tries to reinvigorate T cells (white blood cells of your immune system that fight off any foreign entity in your body) and send them off to kill the tumour.

“The funding from the RAH Research Fund has allowed us to get a few steps closer to understanding immunotherapy better and how effective it is as a treatment,” Dr Ebert said.

“We want to look at T cells before and after treatment with the drug pembrolizumab and see whether they have the right molecules that enable them to kill tumour cells. One of the main goals is to understand the molecules that T cells have on their surface that enables them to get into the tumour.

“T cells can only do their job if they are able to recognise cancer cells as something foreign, which is difficult because cancer arises from our own cells. So, when T cells see melanoma cells they think it looks like a skin cell and ignore it. The trick with immunotherapy is to re-engage T cells to recognise cancer cells as foreign and fight it.”

With Australia having the highest prevalence of melanoma in the world, this work could not be more crucial!

For Dr Ebert’s project on multiple myeloma, she says the team have also had some preliminary data suggesting a molecule they are interested in is associated with poor prognosis for patients with this devastating disease.

“We propose that this molecule could be a way of determining patients with a particularly aggressive form of multiple myeloma. This information could help us tailor the treatment for individual patients, to reduce toxicities and improve their prognosis,” Dr Ebert explains.

“We may also one day develop a new treatment for multiple myeloma which blocks the function of this molecule, to slow down the growth of the cancer cells and stop them spreading around the body.”

Dr Ebert hopes her research could bring us one step closer to a cure for these devastating cancers.

Thanks to your support to the RAH Research Fund, Dr Ebert’s research can potentially help save the lives of so many Australians who suffer from melanoma and multiple myeloma. Thank you for enabling this vital research!