UCD-led research finds new potential ways to manage rare eye cancer

2 Feb 2023

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The researchers claim they have found ways to predict which patients are more likely to have uveal melanoma spread and a new potential treatment for the disease.

A research collaboration has found new potential ways to detect and manage a rare but deadly type of cancer that affects the eye.

The researchers from Ireland, Spain and the UK looked at uveal melanoma (UM), a cancer that begins in pigment-producing cells that give eyes their colour.

Although it is a rare cancer globally, studies suggest that Ireland has one of the highest incidence rates of UM in the world. It is estimated that 50 to 60 people are diagnosed with UM in Ireland each year.

If the cancer manages to spread – or metastasise – to the liver and other parts of the body, the prognosis of patients drops considerably.

Current treatment options involve surgery and radiotherapy, but UCD researchers said the cancer still manages to spread in one out of every two patients.

In the new study published in the scientific journal Frontiers, the international team claims to have found new ways to predict which patients are more likely to have UM spread, along with new treatments for the disease.

New biomarkers and drug candidates

The researchers looked at cysteinyl leukotriene (CysLT) receptors as potential biomarkers and drug targets to treat the eye cancer. In this case, biomarkers are used to identify which patients are most likely to develop UM that will spread to other parts of the body.

The team looked at cancer cells from UM patients and a preclinical model of metastatic UM. They also tested a candidate drug – called 1,4-dihydroxy quininib – on the CysLT receptors.

Dr Kayleigh Slater, a postdoctoral fellow and first author on this study, said higher levels of the CysLT receptor appear to be an indication of “poor prognosis”. She said the research also identified a biomarker that “appears to predict which patients will not develop metastatic disease”.

The study’s candidate drug appeared to have a positive result in reducing the cancer’s ability to grow and spread.

UCD Prof Breandán Kennedy said the findings were “positive” and that the biomarkers could be “valuable prognostic tools” to detect which patients are unlikely to have the eye cancer spread.

“We are immensely grateful to the clinical team in the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital Dublin and the patients who agreed to partake in this study at a very difficult time in their lives,” Kennedy said.

Funding for the international study came primarily from the Irish Research Council and Breakthrough Cancer Research, with additional support from EU Horizon 2020, Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Cancer Society.

Last May, a UCD-led study uncovered a potential treatment for advanced-stage UM, which raised the possibility of improved patient care and the creation of personalised treatment strategies.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic