Current Research

Melanoma Focus is proud to be a charity that is committed to commission, fund, support and promote research into the wide field of melanoma for patient benefit.


We regularly invite applications from UK melanoma researchers. Thanks to your donations, we have funded investigators who work as melanoma clinicians, dermatologists, advanced non-medical practitioners, surgeons, scientists, pathologists and health economists.
Our Scientific Committee, led by Professor Samra Turajlic, evaluates the proposals and makes recommendations for the research awards. Our current research projects are listed below.

>See here for past projects

researcher holing biological sample

CURRENT PROJECTS

In 2023 we awarded grants to four new research projects for patient benefit. Here are details about these current projects

1. A practical and robust mechanistic biomarker of pseudo-progression on immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy

 

2. Immune-Tox: A prospective observational study of chronic and late adverse effects from immune checkpoint inhibitors in patients with melanoma 

 

3. LATe TreatmENT related Toxicity in Melanoma (LATENT) 

 

4. National audit to Evaluate the impact of Adjuvant Therapy on melanoma patient survival (NEAT)

 

5. Exploring young adults’ views on alternatives to sunbed use

CURRENT PROJECT 1

A practical and robust mechanistic biomarker of pseudo-progression on immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy

Clinical Investigators

Dr Amanda Fitzpatrick, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Honorary Senior Lecturer (KHP Comprehensive Cancer Centre Career Development and Innovation Award), Guy’s Hospital and King’s College London 

Dr Yin Wu, Wellcome Trust Clinician Scientist and Honorary Consultant Medical Oncologist, King’s College London and Guy’s Hospital 

Co-Investigators

Professor Sophia Karagiannis 
Professor Sean Whittaker 
Dr Zena Willsmore 

Project start date 

01/09/23 

Proposed project duration

1 year 

Project Summary

Immunotherapies have revolutionised the treatment of advanced melanoma. These therapies work by stimulating the body’s natural defence (immune system) to attack and kill cancer cells. While in some patients this treatment is effective, many patients do not benefit. Moreover, some patients experience a phenomenon, called “pseudo-progression”, where tumours grow before shrinking.   

Pseudo-progression is thought to reflect an increased flow of cancer-targeting immune cells into the tumour before they then attack and kill the tumour. It presents a problem for doctors and patients and it’s hard to know whether to stop treatment with immunotherapy when scans show cancer progression or continue because of the small possibility that it is pseudo-progression.  

Current guidelines recommend continuing immunotherapy and performing a second scan after 4-8 weeks to confirm if a patient has true progression or pseudo-progression. However, continuing treatment when a patient has true progression risks them experiencing unnecessary side effects of immunotherapy treatment and delays alternative treatment with potentially more effective drugs .  

This project wants to identify early changes in the way the body responds to immunotherapy to help doctors know when patients have true progression versus pseudo-progression. 

The main aims of this pilot study are:

  • To carry out a test on stored blood samples called TCR sequencing that can show early signals of changes in the body’s immune system after starting immunotherapy. 
  • To carry out a test on stored blood samples looking at ctDNA levels which can show signs of reduced tumour activity in the body. 
  • The aim is to then use the results of these 2 tests combined to identify patients who have true progression and those with pseudo-progression. This means that doctors will be able to know earlier and with more certainty when they should continue or stop immunotherapy treatment after signs of progression on a patient’s scan. 

The funding from Melanoma Focus is to be able to:

Carry out ctDNA analysis and perform TCR sequencing on blood samples. This data will then be analysed, and a design proposal will be made to support an application to a research funding grant to extend the research to a larger group of patients. 

Comment from Clinical Investigators

We are very grateful for this generous grant from Melanoma Focus which will enable to us to apply state-of-the-art experimental techniques to address the very important clinical question of how to differentiate pseudo-progression from true progression. The results of our pilot study will lay the foundation for a larger confirmatory study which we hope may ultimately spare many patients unnecessary toxicities of immunotherapy and delays in access to more effective therapies. 

CURRENT PROJECT 2

Immune-Tox: A prospective observational study of chronic and late adverse effects from immune checkpoint inhibitors in patients with melanoma

Clinical Investigators

Dr Rebecca Lee, Senior clinical lecturer medical oncology and Wellcome early career fellow, University of Manchester/The Francis Crick/University College London 

Co-Investigators

Professor Paul Lorigan, Consultant Medical Oncologist in Melanoma and Professor of Cancer Cell biology, University of Manchester 
Dr Ann Tivey, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow (Medical Oncology) 
Dr Safwan Adam, Consultant Endocrinologist (with a special interest in cardiovascular disease risk) 
Professor Christopher Miller, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, NIHR Advanced Fellow and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist, University of Manchester 
Dr James Tollitt, Consultant Renal Physician/Honorary Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular Sciences 
Dr Alexander Oldroyd, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer (Rheumatologist), University of Manchester 
Dr Fabio Gomes, Consultant Medical Oncologist with special interest in Oncogeriatrics
Dr Cassandra Ng, Consultant Oncogeriatrician, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust 
Professor Arpana Verma, Clinical Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology, University of Manchester 
Dr Hui Guo, senior lecturer in Biostatistics at the Centre for Biostatistics, University of Manchester. 
Dr Tim Cooksley, Consultant in Acute Oncology, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust 

Project start date

Q3 2023 

Proposed project duration

6 years (3 years of Melanoma Focus funding) 

Project Summary

Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) enhance the immune system’s ability to attack and kill cancer cells. This treatment has proved very effective and so there is a growing population of patients with melanoma expected to live for many years after treatment with ICIs. Evidence regarding long-term effects of these treatments is limited.  

The Immune-Tox study will look at long-term effects from ICIs in patients with melanoma.  Patients who received adjuvant treatment with an ICI, i.e., after having had their melanoma surgically removed, will be recruited to the study. The patients will be monitored for several years, and they will be compared to patients who did not receive ICIs to look at any difference in any medical conditions, particularly cardiac, as well as looking at their quality of life and energy/tiredness levels. This information will allow doctors and patients to discuss the risks and benefits of ICIs before the treatment is started, it will also allow for better monitoring, prevention and management of side effects that may appear later on after treatment.  

The main aims of the research project:

The main aim of the project is to look at the long-term side effects of adjuvant immune-check point inhibitor treatment in melanoma patients and compare them to patients who did not receive treatment. Knowing how these long-term side effects can affect patients will allow more informed decision making when prescribing adjuvant ICI treatment and potentially improve long-term quality of life of patients with melanoma. 

The funding from Melanoma Focus is to be able to:

Set up the study, including recruiting personnel and setting up the database where the information will be stored. The funding will support the first 3 years of the running of the study which after set-up will cover recruiting patients and preliminary data collection. 

NIHR badging will also be sought using the Melanoma Focus funding. 

There is a commitment to collaborate on late-effects of immunotherapy research with the Melanoma Focus funded project LATENT (see below).

Comment from Clinical Investigators

We are very grateful for the funding from Melanoma Focus for this study. It will provide the information we need to ensure that patients with melanoma have the best possible management throughout their cancer journey. It is important that we better understand the long-term impact of treatment so we can tailor our follow up management to improve outcomes for patients.” 

CURRENT PROJECT 3

LATe TreatmENT related Toxicity in Melanoma (LATENT) 

Clinical Investigators

Dr Kate Young, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Royal Marsden Hospital, London 
Dr Aislinn Macklin-Doherty, Post-doctoral clinical research fellow, Royal Marsden Hospital, London
Dr Sowmya Cheruvu, Clinical Research Fellow, The Royal Marsden Hospital, London
Dr Javier Pozas, Medical Oncologist, Clinical & Research Fellow, The Royal Marsden Hospital, London

Co-Investigators

Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Royal Marsden Hospital, London 
Dr Anna Olsson-Brown, Consultant Medical Oncologist, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Liverpool 
Dr Rebecca Lee, Senior clinical lecturer medical oncology and Wellcome early career fellow, University of Manchester/The Francis Crick/University College London 

Project start date

01/09/2023  

Proposed project duration

1 year 

Project Summary 

Enormous advances in melanoma treatments have been made in the last decade, with the introduction of new immunotherapy and targeted treatments. This has revolutionised survival and there are now a growing number of people treated for advanced melanoma living many years after their diagnoses. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how these treatments affect people in the long-term, once their cancer is controlled.  

This study will use different methods to collect and analyse data and address this gap in knowledge. The overall objective would be to publish results of these late-effect frequencies and risk factors discovered in this study in order to work towards setting up a larger multi-centre study investigating both medically reported and patient-reported late effects. 

 The main aims of the research project:

  • Setting up a large, pooled database of Royal Marsden, Clatterbridge and Christie long-term survivors treated for melanoma, detailing the type and frequency of late effects of melanoma treatments.  
  • Investigating the use of immunosuppressive treatments and the pattern of referrals to specialists.  
  • Investigating risk factors for a range of side effects in order to develop follow up guidance for late effects management for healthcare professionals.  
  • Undertaking a literature review and public engagement events with patients, researchers and healthcare professionals to determine an optimal Patient-Reported Outcome Measures (PROM) collection tool. 

The funding from Melanoma Focus is to be able to: 

Support a clinical research fellow to carry out the data collection and analysis to fulfil the different aims of the project. 

There is a commitment to collaborate on late-effects of immunotherapy research with the Melanoma Focus funded project Immuno-tox (see above).

Comment from Clinical Investigators

This generous grant from Melanoma Focus will enable our research fellow to collect data from 3 leading cancer centres and information from patients themselves to improve our understanding of the long-term side effects and impact of immunotherapy treatment, to help us design and plan better follow up and survivorship services for our patients in the future. 

CURRENT PROJECT 4

National audit to Evaluate the impact of Adjuvant Therapy on melanoma patient survival (NEAT)

Clinical Investigators

Dr Nicola Thompson; Consultant Medical Oncologist, Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Co-Investigators

Dr Pippa Corrie; Consultant Medical Oncologist, Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Dr Brent O’Carrigan; Consultant Medical Oncologist, Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Project start date

June 2024  

Proposed project duration 

1 year 

Project Summary

Patients with high-risk, stage 3 melanoma in the UK are routinely offered anti-cancer treatment after their initial (primary) surgery, this is known as adjuvant treatment. This was introduced into the NHS in 2018.

Previous studies have shown that some treatments (either immunotherapy with nivolumab, pembrolizumab or BRAF-targeted treatment with dabrafenib+trametinib) can reduce the chance of the melanoma returning but have not shown any definite benefit in overall life expectancy to date.

A recent Swedish national registry study failed to show any increase in life expectancy in stage 3 melanoma patients since these treatments were introduced.

The data gathered by the Swedish study raises questions into the cost versus benefit of adjuvant treatment in high-risk stage 3 melanoma patients, and this calls for further investigation in another national dataset.

This project will look at treatment and survival data from UK national systemic anti-cancer treatment (SACT) and survival datasets for patients with stage 3 melanoma between 2016-2020 (2 years before and 2 years after the introduction of adjuvant therapy), to determine whether introduction of adjuvant treatment has improved the life expectancy of these patients.

The main aims of the research project:

The primary objective of this national audit is to compare survival of stage 3 melanoma patients who did, versus those patients who did not receive adjuvant therapy.

This study will generate real world UK data on the impact of adjuvant melanoma therapy on survival, informing clinical decision-making on an individual patient basis, as well providing national data which may inform funding decisions and help shape future policy on adjuvant treatment for resected stage 3 disease.

 The funding from Melanoma Focus is to be able to:

 Access the NHS Data Access Request Service and pay for a statistician to analyse the data.

 Comment from Clinical Investigators

“We’re thrilled to have been offered support from Melanoma Focus to undertake this work. We hope this study will answer some very important questions regarding adjuvant treatment for melanoma patients.”

CURRENT PROJECT 5

Exploring young adults’ views on alternatives to sunbed use

Clinical Investigators

Dr Angela Rodrigues, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Northumbria University

Co-Investigators

Dr Tracy Epton, Senior Lecturer at Manchester University
Dr Rachel Abbott, Dermatology Consultant at University Hospital of Wales
Paul Court, Chief Executive at Healthworks Newcastle

Project start date

01/09/2024

Proposed project duration

1 year 

Project Summary 

Sunbed use increases the risk of skin-cancer, including melanoma. Despite this knowledge and the introduction of UK Government regulation in 2010, many people still use them, particularly young people.  We lack research on how to help people stop using sunbeds and encourage them to take up alternatives (such as spray-tan).

This study aims to understand young adults’ thoughts on sunbed alternatives. Part 1 of the study involves an online survey to explore why young adults do or don’t use alternatives to sunbeds. It aims to recruit 300 UK-based young adults who are nationally representative of the population in the UK. Around 30 sunbed users will then be invited to complete Part 2, where they will “think aloud” whilst exploring different strategies to encourage sunbed alternatives.

The results from this study will help decide which important features to include in future programmes to help people stop using sunbeds and take up alternatives and therefore lower the chances of getting skin cancer, like melanoma.

The main aims of the research project:

The proposed study uses behavioural science methods, to explore young adults’ perspectives on alternatives to sunbed use.

It will conduct a two-part mixed methods study to address the following objectives:

  1. Explore views and experiences of sunbed users about engaging in alternatives to sunbed use (Part 1; online cross-sectional survey);
  2. Identify key features of strategies to encourage alternatives to sunbed use (Part 2, think-aloud study).

The findings of this study will inform the development of evidence-based strategies to promote alternatives to sunbed use, that can be tested in a future randomised trial.

The funding from Melanoma Focus is to be able to: 

Fund a Research Assistant for 12 months (2.5 days/week) in order to assist with the development of the survey and think-aloud study protocols, ethics application, data collection and analysis and final write-up.

Also, to cover the cost of the survey distribution platform; Prolific, to pay think-aloud study participants, and transcription of 30 recorded think-aloud interviews and, fees to patient and public (PPI) contributors to review documents and reports related to this project.

Comment from Clinical Investigators

“We are very grateful for this generous grant from Melanoma Focus. Their support enables us to delve into research on sunbed alternatives, allowing us to address the critical gap in understanding how to guide young adults away from sunbed use and toward safer alternatives.”