Research to improve survival rates for patients with eye cancer

14 March 19

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Press Office

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Professor Judy Coulson from the University of Liverpool.

Fight for Sight is this week announcing research to identify new treatments that could improve survival rates for people with an eye cancer called uveal melanoma.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool 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 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 patients.

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.

In up to 50% of patients, the aggressive eye tumour will spread to the liver causing the development of a secondary cancer. This process is strongly associated with changes in the BAP1 gene.

Unfortunately, patients can lose their sight even when treatment of their tumour is successful.

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.”

Lead researcher, Professor Judy Coulson from the University of Liverpool, said: “We don’t yet understand the role of BAP1 gene in uveal cancer 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.”

Through establishing the changes that occur in uveal melanoma cells without a functioning BAP1 gene, Professors Coulson and Coupland and their collaborators at the University of Liverpool 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.

People with pale skin, lighter eye colour and unusual moles are more at risk of developing this eye cancer. Symptoms can include blurred vision, a dark patch in the eye which is increasing in size or partial/total loss of vision. These signs can be picked up during routine eye tests with iris dilation.

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