Perth fellowship strengthens fight against skin cancer

Source: WA Today, March 2014

ECU's Dr Elin Gray is the first recipient of the Cancer Research Trust Fellowship to fight melanoma.Source: WA Today

ECU’s Dr Elin Gray is the first recipient of the Cancer Research Trust Fellowship to fight melanoma.
Source: WA Today

As one of Australia’s peak bodies on climate change confirms our summers are getting hotter and dryer, in turn increasing our risks of skin cancers, one Perth health professional has been boosted in her pursuit to find a cure for the deadly disease.

Edith Cowan University melanoma researcher Dr Elin Gray has been named the first recipient of the Cancer Research Trust Fellowship to develop more effective targeted treatment for cancer patients.

The $750,000 five-year fellowship will strengthen Dr Gray’s research into the role of circulating tumour cells in melanoma patients and expand to other cancer types.

“Circulating cancer cells can give a real-time snapshot of the patient’s tumour, like a liquid biopsy,” Dr Gray explained.

“The advantage of CTC sampling is that it will allow analysis of the cancer in real time, whereas with a traditional biopsies, the sample of the tumour can be stored for years, in which time the tumour may have changed.

“The hope is that analysing the specific genetic makeup of the CTCs will allow us to develop more effective personalised treatments tailored to each patient’s tumour.

“Given WA’s very high rates of skin cancer it felt natural to start work researching melanoma when I moved here in 2011.”

The announcement of Dr Gray receiving the fellowship coincides with release of the Climate Council’s 2013-2014 Angry Summer report which revealed Australians suffered through record-breaking extreme weather conditions across the country.

Measuring CTC levels is already used to predict the chance of survival for cancer patients and Dr Gray’s work will focus on how to analyse the genetic material of cells in a patient’s bloodstream to tailor treatment.

As part of the fellowship Dr Gray will work with the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Nedlands and join the mentor program at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne.

Dr Gray, who joined the melanoma research group at ECU led by Professor Mel Ziman in 2011, began her research career in Cuba after graduating from Havana University in 1997.

She then moved to South Africa in 2001 where she worked at the AIDS Research Unit in Johannesburg.

She was a visiting fellow at Duke University and at National Institute of Health, USA.