“I didn’t know Clement while he was alive, but what he has left behind is a true reflection of his hope to beat cancer.” – Professor Xu Dong Zhang
Due to the support of the estate of the late Clement Saxton, Professor Xu Dong Zhang and his team at the University of Newcastle are currently researching the role that the protein RIP1 plays in melanoma cell survival. The results of this research are likely to provide the basis for new drug treatments and improved treatment benefits of existing drugs.
“I wish I was able to thank Clement for his generous and kind gift. Through his bequest, Clement, and others like him, have helped secure the future of hundreds of research projects. I didn’t know Clement while he was alive, but what he has left behind is a true reflection of his hope to beat cancer.” – Professor Xu Dong Zhang
Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. It is the third most common form of cancer in Australian men and women. In 2011, more than 1,500 Australians died from melanoma. By leaving a bequest to Cancer Council NSW, Clement’s legacy is to be part of a world-class research project that has the potential to develop new drug treatments and improved treatment benefits of existing drugs for melanoma. It also has the potential to deliver an easy-to-use, low-cost biomarker test for use in clinical practice. In turn, this could ensure access to those living in rural areas and people from low-income families.
Despite the recent advances in targeted therapy and immunotherapy, curative treatment of metastatic melanoma remains an unmet health problem. There is currently no cure for melanoma once it has spread beyond the original site. This is closely related to inappropriate expression and activation of proteins that drive cell survival and resistance to drug treatment within melanoma cells. Among thousands of proteins within a cell is a protein called RIP1 (Receptor-interacting protein kinase 1). Professor Zhang and his team have found that RIP1 is commonly expressed at high levels in melanoma cells, and that removal of RIP1 in the laboratory kills a large proportion of melanoma cells. In addition, removal of RIP1 cooperates with existing drugs to kill melanoma cells. These results suggest that RIP1 may play an important role to promote melanoma cell survival, thus contributing to resistance of melanoma to drug treatment.
Professor Zhang’s project will potentially identify RIP1 as a protein that is important for melanoma cell survival, thus providing a basis for development of inhibitor of RIP (IoRs) as new drugs in the treatment of melanoma, used alone or in combination with existing drugs to improve treatment benefits. It will take some time to develop IoRs and to implement them in clinical practice. However, once this is achieved, it will have the potential to significantly improve treatment outcomes of most patients with metastatic melanomas that have high levels of RIP1.
Translation of RIP1 as a biomarker into clinical practice is likely to be realised in the short term (six months after the completion of this project), and the team will be aiming to produce an easy-to-use, low-cost laboratory kit for testing RIP1 expression in melanoma tissues.