Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS)  working with the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund  – By Sophie Mumford

Melanoma remains the most aggressive form skin cancer with an increasing incidence worldwide. Surgical resection of a non-metastatic melanoma (stage I/II) can result in disease-free intervals; however recurrence is common often resulting in progression to metastatic melanoma (stage III/IV) and death within 5 years.

This presents a pressing need to establish biomarker signatures that allow identification of patients at high risk of recurrence, to enhance their likelihood of survival, as there are now a number of drugs available that are effective against certain subtypes of melanoma.


Circulating microRNAs are emerging as promising non-invasive cancer biomarkers. MicroRNAs are small non-coding RNAs that function in gene silencing and post-transcriptional control on gene expression. These miRNAs are stable in the circulating blood because they are encapsulated in exosomes or are bound to protective proteins such as AGO2.

Indeed, a number of studies have demonstrated that the dynamics of microRNA expression in circulation is altered in melanoma patients, and a number microRNA biomarker signatures have been identified from circulating blood which can differentiate between melanoma patients and healthy controls.

Relatively few studies have used staged samples to identify microRNA biomarkers that can distinguish non-metastatic melanoma from metastatic melanoma. Therefore, the aim of our study is to identify microRNA biomarkers from the circulating blood to detect recurrence in malignant melanoma.

To recap, previous work carried out at the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation and the Brighton and Sussex Medical School identified 3 potential microRNA biomarkers that can distinguish Stage I/II from Stage III/IV melanoma, plus three potential reference controls.

Professor Sarah Newbury

Recent funding from the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund has provided me with the exciting opportunity to work alongside Professor Sarah Newbury and her research team, to check and validate the microRNA biomarkers identified in these initial experiments. Since our previous report, I have performed 474 qRT-PCR assays to quantify the relative levels of the three potential biomarkers and three normalisers in RNA extracted from the serum of 20 healthy, 20 stage I/II and 20 stage III/IV donors.

I recently re-analysed the primary data upon which this project was built and identified two additional potential biomarkers which will also be analysed in these samples using qRT-PCR.


Sophie Mumford in the lab. in Brighton

Currently only a few molecules of microRNA biomarkers extracted from serum can be measured using RT-qPCR and it has been reported that the RNA extraction method can affect detection, therefore I will re-extract RNA from the remaining serum of these donors using an alternative extraction method, and repeat all RT-qPCR assays to provide an additional level of validation.

To assess the extraction efficiency of the two RNA extraction kits, I will collect serum from healthy donors, add spike-in control and run an equal volume of each sample through each kit, followed by comparison using RT-qPCR. Alongside my lab work, I am in the process of conducting a literature review on the identification of circulating microRNA biomarkers in melanoma and related cancers. So far, I have collected 16 publications on this topic.

I have also designed a spread sheet to summarise the identified microRNA biomarkers in these papers, as well as listing the exact methods that each group has used. The information that I collect will be used to inform the introduction and/or some of the discussion in our publication.

Sophie will be updating this report each month. For further information on this important research project contact

Our medical ambassador Mr Siva Kumar is currently in Australia, representing both ourselves & Queen Victoria Hospital at the 9th World Congress of Melanoma.

This global summit was devised to accelerate scientific and clinical investigations into melanoma, providing an opportunity for people from all multi-disciplinary fields to meet and exchange knowledge and expertise.

Says Siva, “This is an outstanding event, providing real insight into unpublished work which is going to completely change the way we treat melanoma”.

We cannot wait to hear more from Siva on his return. To view the schedule of this 4 day event click HERE. 

Mr Siva Kumar on the forthcoming 9th World Congress of Melanoma

Although incidence of melanoma is still rising at alarming rates, when it comes to treatment we are living in encouraging times. There has been a big surge in the number of medical and scientific discoveries in recent years, focusing on the prevention, diagnosis and management of this, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

It is no exaggeration to say that melanoma treatment is also probably the fastest changing oncological field at present. This is why, as a melanoma surgeon I am honoured and excited to attend the 9th World Congress of Melanoma in Australia this October.

My trip – kindly sponsored by the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund – will provide me with the chance to learn and keep conversant with the latest research and trends. It will create unparalleled opportunities to network, offering endless possibilities of partnering with other leading clinicians and scientists from around the world, to exchange knowledge, fresh thinking, expertise and new ideas.

Michelle Baker (CEO) with Siva Kumar (Medical Ambassador)

Having spent an enjoyable and successful year working with this highly proactive charity, raising awareness of melanoma in their ‘Watch your Back!’ campaign, I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with my peers. It is proven that early detection of melanoma leads to better outcomes which is showcased by the fact that this impactful campaign is soon to launch in New Zealand.

When it comes to hot topics of discussion, the role of ‘sentinel node biopsy’ in the management of melanoma remains up there. As one of the leading members of the MASCU team at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, that has recently introduced SNB to SE England, I will be keen to critically evaluate the recent evidence presented at the Conference, to ensure that patients treated at QVH can benefit and are fully informed.

I have no doubt there are other groups and charities around the world that will have innovative methods to spread a similar message.  I hope to come back with lots of ideas that I can share with the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund, and work with to implement in future campaigns.

For further details on the Conference and how this can impact the local community, please watch out for my updates at


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By Professor Sarah Newbury – Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS)

Melanoma microRNA biomarker project
The overall aim of our study is to identify microRNA biomarkers from the circulating blood to detect recurrence in malignant melanoma. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs which are known to control cellular pathways through post-transcriptional control of gene expression.

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On a hot and sunny morning, the team from the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund set off to Bexhill-on -sea to attend Be Active 2017, a community event run by Active Rother. The charity was in attendance to promote its Watch Your Back! campaign, supported this year by over 180 garden centres and endorsed by 7 of the best known gardeners in the UK.

Three organisations working together to create impact on melanoma


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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently issued a positive recommendation for the combination of Ipililumab and Nivolumab for the treatment of advanced metastatic melanoma in adults. Whilst awaiting implementation by NICE, the combination was granted interim funding through the new Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).
It came as a great surprise to us when we recently learned that NHS England has restricted the circumstances in which the drugs would be funded and available to patients on the CDF, through the implementation of a new set of criteria.

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