• Call for Research Proposals 2020-21

Call for Research Proposals 2020-21

Applications have now closed for the 2020 – 21 research proposal grant.

Please check back for details of future grants.

Melanoma Focus is a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) non-commercial Partner. This means the studies that we fund may be eligible to access the NIHR Study Support Service which is provided by the NIHR Clinical Research Network. The NIHR Clinical Research Network can now support health and social care research taking place in non-NHS settings, such as studies running in care homes or hospices, or public health research taking place in schools and other community settings. Read the full policy: Eligibility Criteria for NIHR Clinical Research Network Support. (.PDF)
In partnership with your local R&D office, we encourage you to involve your local NIHR Clinical Research Network team in discussions as early as possible when planning your study. This will enable you to fully benefit from the support available through the NIHR Study Support Service. Find out more about the Study Support Service.

If your study involves NHS sites in England you will need to apply for Health Research Authority Approval. Guidance on submitting an application.

Previous Awards

Validation of Ambra-1 and Loricrin as prognostic biomarkers for the early detection of high risk melanomas

Principal Investigators:

  • Dr Rob Ellis, The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough and Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University
  • Professor Penny Lovat, Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University


  • Dr Marie Labus, Business Development Manager, Research and Enterprise Services, Newcastle University


There is a high rate of mortality if melanoma spreads (or ‘metastasises’) from the skin to other parts of the body. Thankfully, most patients can be cured if their melanomas are surgically removed from the skin before this happens. Analysing melanomas after their removal can help clinicians predict which patients remain likely to develop metastatic disease but at present the accuracy of using this method for prognosis is not exact.

Loss of the surface layer of the skin over a melanoma is known as ulceration. Patients whose melanomas become ulcerated have a worse outcome, but the exact reason for this is unclear. We have shown in an initial group of melanoma patients that the loss of two proteins, Ambra-1 and loricrin, in this skin layer is linked to the development of ulceration, hence a greater risk of the disease spreading.

This research project will look for changes in these two proteins in this skin layer in melanomas from a larger group of patients. We aim to find out how to predict which patients are at a higher risk of metastatic melanoma, and who will therefore need to be followed up more closely by clinicians after surgery.

We hope to gain a better understanding of the link between these proteins and skin ulceration, as well as their relationship with another protein, known as transforming growth factor beta-2 (TGFβ2), which is linked to cell proliferation and is found in melanomas. This, in turn, may help us develop new treatments for patients who are identified as being at higher risk of disease spread. Discovering earlier and more effective therapies would reduce the rate of metastasis and overall mortality from this most serious form of skin cancer.

Comment by Dr Rob Ellis

‘We are extremely delighted to receive this award as we feel that the results we have seen in a previous cohort of patients, as well as multiple laboratory experiments, suggests that we may have begun to unravel the enigma of melanoma ulceration. In doing so, we have identified two proteins in the epidermis overlying melanomas that when lost in the early stages of melanoma development suggest that a patient is at high risk of disease spread and higher mortality.

‘By further understanding this process, we may be able to develop new drug treatments to prevent the spread of disease and so impact greatly on the mortality from the condition.

‘The support of the Melanoma Focus has enabled us to take this project forward, allowing potential patient benefit as soon as possible’.

The project resulted in the first melanoma test to identify those at low risk of cancer spreading. Click here for further details.

Metformin and survival from melanoma

Principal Investigator:

  • Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine


  • Professor Tim Bishop, Dr Jon Laye, Dr Mark Harland, Dr John Davies, Professor Jenny Barrett


‘Melanoma patients often seek advice at diagnosis about lifestyle: what they should do to best look after their health in the future. Currently there is very little evidence on which to base such advice. One question that arises is whether any drugs taken for other medical conditions should be avoided; and whether drugs taken for common conditions such as diabetes might also have an effect on melanoma.

‘Scientists have published evidence that one drug, metformin, prescribed to diabetic melanoma patients could have harmful effects for some and yet beneficial effects for others, depending on the genetic profile of their cancer. Our project is designed to investigate this by identifying melanoma patients with diabetes and testing their tumours for mutations’.

Strategic biomarkers for aggressive melanoma

Principal Investigator:

  • Professor Charlotte Proby, Medical Research Institute, University of Dundee


  • Dr Tim Crook, Dr Colin Fleming, Dr Mathieu Boniol, Professor Catherine Harwood, Dr Rubeta Matin


‘Melanoma in its advanced stages has a striking propensity to spread (metastasise) to distant organs including the liver, lungs and brain at which time it is incurable and frequently causes rapid death. There is increasing evidence that the early use of anti-melanoma drugs allows more effective treatment and better clinical outcomes. Development of simple, non-invasive tests (particularly blood tests) to detect metastatic disease before the patient develops symptoms is therefore a high priority for melanoma research. We have developed such tests in which we detect changes in the DNA profile present in blood that occur in patients with metastatic disease. The tests we are developing require only a blood sample taken at routine clinical follow up and are extremely sensitive and specific for detection of metastatic melanoma.

‘We now want to increase the utility of these tests by incorporating additional genes (identified in our laboratory) that may increase the effectiveness of the test and greatly increase the number of patients tested to refine our tests to a level that is compatible with implementation in the clinic. Achieving this would expedite the introduction to routine clinical practice of blood tests to detect sub-clinical metastasis and would inform a change in the treatment paradigm towards early use of anti-melanoma drugs. We believe that this would result in markedly improved clinical outcomes’.

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