2023 Research Grants

We are delighted to announce the AMRF grant recipients for 2023.

Melanoma incidence is set to rise over the next 10 years.  More than 200,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma before 2030.

The survival rate from advanced melanoma has improved from 10% to 50% over the last decade  – largely due to improvements in detection and treatment.

It is only through the support of our partners and donors that this support is available.  Thank you for making a difference.  Our Research Committee, which includes two external experts, has selected five young Australian researchers for grants in the 2023 round.

We are also delighted to announce the recipients of the Warren Meanwell Melanoma Research Grant and the LEK Consulting Melanoma Research Grant for 2023.

Early Career Research Scientist and Warren Meanwell Melanoma Research Grant recipient for 2023

Identifying the gene expression signatures of tumour-specific CD8+ T cells in adjuvant anti-PD-1 treated stage III melanoma patients

Grace Attrill
The University of Sydney, NSW

Early Career Research Scientist and LEK Consulting Research Grant recipient for 2023

Research into the identification of protein signatures and the use of scarless skin biopsies to achieve more reliable diagnoses through proteomic analysis

Dr Rachel Teh
The University of Sydney, NSW

Early Career Research Scientist Grant recipient for 2023

IgG and IgA autoanti-bodies as predictive biomarkers of immune-related adverse events (irAEs) and survival in cutaneous melanoma patients on immune checkpoint inhibitors

Dr Pauline Zaenker
Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA

Early Career Research Scientist Grant recipient for 2023

Assessing behavioural impacts of receiving personalised risk scores for melanoma

Dr Tatiane Yanes
The University of Queensland, QLD

Post Graduate Research Grant recipient for 2023

Immunosuppression and the tumour microenvironment in advanced melanoma

Catherine Zilberg
The University of Sydney, NSW

Grace Attrill

“I feel very fortunate to receive the Warren Meanwell Melanoma Research Grant for 2023 for this exciting new study, which we hope will lead to more effective therapies for melanoma patients. Thank you very much!
Grace Attrill

Identifying the gene expression signatures of tumour-specific CD8+ T cells in adjuvant anti-PD-1 treated stage III melanoma patients

Grace Attrill

The University of Sydney, NSW 

CD8+ T cells are immune cells which can target and destroy cancer cells, and many immune therapies – such as anti-PD-1 therapy – work by boosting these cells. Immunotherapy is not 100% effective for all melanoma patients, and researchers are currently working to figure out why. Intriguing new research has suggested that many of the CD8+ T cells in tumours do not target melanoma cells.  Understanding how this occurs could be vital to improving melanoma therapies and reducing treatment side-effects. However, with current technologies it’s difficult to differentiate between the CD8+ T cells that target melanoma – the ‘melanoma-specifics’ – and those that do not – the ‘bystanders’.

Our study will combine multiple cutting-edge technologies to generate gene expression signatures that distinguish melanoma-specific and bystander CD8+ T cells in the tumours and blood of metastatic melanoma patients treated with anti-PD-1 therapy. With these signatures, we will learn more about melanoma-specific and bystander CD8+ T cell functions and their roles in immunotherapy response and resistance. It is hoped that generating these CD8+ T cell profiles for melanoma patients will lead to more personalised and effective therapies.

Research into the identification of protein signatures and the use of scarless skin biopsies to achieve more reliable diagnoses through proteomic analysis

Dr Rachel Teh

The University of Sydney, NSW 

My research involves investigating the utility of a scarless biopsy technique which collects skin samples using adhesive tape. Proteins are extracted from the collected skin samples to identify a protein signature which will diagnose melanoma in suspicious moles. We are recruiting patients undergoing full body photography through the Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis (ACEMID) to provide comprehensive imaging and histopathology together with the scarless biopsy. 

We aim to develop a diagnostic approach which will reduce the number of removed moles with no malignant potential, improve detection of melanoma, and provide an accessible tool for patients in rural and remote communities.

Dr Rachel Teh

“I’m grateful and honoured to be awarded by the AMRF. This means that I can continue my research towards improving the way we diagnose melanoma and develop a diagnostic tool which will help underserved communities. Thank you, AMRF.”

Dr Rachel Teh

Dr Pauline Zaenker

“As an early career researcher, I am passionate about the development of tests that can serve as additional tools to improve the diagnostic and prognostic certainty of cancer surveillance. I specialise in the clinical application of next generation proteomics and am driven by an interest in research translation and articulating scientific knowledge to the public. The AMRF Early Career Research Scientist grant enables me to validate research findings to further the translation of my research into the clinic.”

Dr Pauline Zaenker

IgG and IgA autoanti-bodies as predictive biomarkers of immune-related adverse events (irAEs) and survival in cutaneous melanoma patients on immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Dr Pauline Zaenker

Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA

The use of immunotherapy has revolutionised the melanoma treatment landscape in the last decade. End-stage melanoma patients now experience improved survival, but many suffer from debilitating, potentially severe grade immune-related side adverse events (irAEs) that require hospitalisation, potential treatment disruption and may be fatal. Biomarkers in the blood of patients that can predict treatment-related irAEs do not currently exist but are critical for the monitoring and prevention of these severe side effects. Based on our previous data, we believe that autoantibodies, markers of the immune system, may serve as predictive biomarkers of severe side effects.

We recently identified and will now validate a shortlist of autoantibodies that may be predictive of severe side effects and these may prove valuable for the development of a blood test that can improve the prediction and early detection of immunotherapy side effects in melanoma patients. In the future, such a blood test has the potential to aid in clinical decision-making with regard to treatment options. This will especially be important in coming years since these treatments are now considered for use in much earlier tumour stages (stage 2 onwards) and the predicted risk of irAE development will be an important consideration for the use of these treatments at early disease stages.

 

Assessing behavioural impacts of receiving personalised risk scores for melanoma

Dr Tatiane Yanes

The University of Queensland, QLD 

Melanoma is Australia’s third most common cancer. Prevention and early detection is the key to ensuring better health outcomes for Australians. While population-wide screening is not economically feasible for melanoma, targeting screening for high-risk individuals is recommended by experts as a potential solution. Currently, traditional risk factors (i.e. sun damage, skin colour, etc) are used to identify individuals at increased risk of melanoma. However, using common genetic risk variants to calculate an overall risk score (called a polygenic risk score) can improve population risk stratification, and more accurately identify those at highest risk of melanoma.

This study aims to better understand the value of polygenic risk information. It will show if there are differences in psychosocial and behavioural outcomes between individuals that receive personalised risk scores based on polygenic and traditional risk factors vs those based on traditional risk factors only. Specifically, we want to evaluate differences in perceived personal utility, distress, empowerment, and sun-safety and screening behaviours.

 
Dr Tatiane Yanes

“I want to thank AMRF for its support towards our research. We really value the contribution. The grant will be used to help provide personalised melanoma risk information to our study participants, which is being assessed as part of the study.”

Dr Tatiane Yanes

Catherine Zilberg

“This grant will allow me to undertake much needed research into a high-risk group of patients. Hopefully, this research will lead to improved melanoma outcomes for immunosuppressed patients. Thank you AMRF!”

Catherine Zilberg

Immunosuppression and the tumour microenvironment in advanced melanoma

Catherine Zilberg

The University of Sydney, NSW

Immunosuppressed patients are at significantly higher risk of melanoma, have worse disease-specific outcomes, and are in growing numbers in Australia. However, there is limited research investigating the biology of melanoma in this group. 

The aim of my PhD project involves defining the composition of the tumour microenvironment in melanoma from immunosuppressed and immunocompetent patients using a novel tissue imaging technology called Imaging Mass Cytometry (IMC) and investigating potential disease biomarkers. IMC permits the characterisation of hundreds of cell populations in tumours, and their location and interactions with one another. Currently, there are no population-specific biomarkers predicting clinical behaviour or pathologic features of melanoma in immunosuppressed patients. Our selected cohort has long-term outcome data (including treatment responses) available, permitting the investigation of relevant clinicopathologic biomarkers. 

This is one of the first studies to research the biology of melanoma in immunosuppressed patients. Hopefully, findings from this project will lead to increased understanding of melanoma in this high-risk population, and ultimately to improved melanoma outcomes. 

 

Read the 2022 AMRF Melanoma Research Update

Melanoma research

The AMRF is committed to funding research aimed at furthering knowledge and offering better outcomes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of melanoma.

The AMRF will focus on supporting early career researchers in Australia.

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