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Test can predict spread of eye cancer to liver

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed a method to predict whether melanoma of the eye will spread to the liver, where it quickly turns deadly. They also believe the molecular screening test may one day help determine the prognosis of patients with some types of skin melanoma.

J. William Harbour, M.D., the Paul A. Cibis Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and associate professor of cell biology and molecular oncology, reported on the screening test today at the American Academy of Cancer Research meeting in Chicago.

"About half of patients with ocular melanoma develop metastasis in the liver," says Harbour, who directs the ocular oncology service at the School of Medicine. "Ocular melanoma has a strong propensity to spread to the liver, and when it does, it usually leads to death within a very short time."

Doctors have known for many years that patient age, tumor size and location and shape of tumor cells all could help predict whether ocular melanoma was likely to spread. But none of those factors were accurate enough to influence treatment decisions in individual patients.

Now Harbour and colleagues have found that a particular molecular signature -- that is, the pattern of activation of a group of genes in the tumor cells -- accurately predicts risk for metastasis. Rather than analyzing a single protein or molecular factor, the test looks at how several factors work together.

"We were attempting to analyze these patterns the same way that our brain's work to recognize a face to tell whether a person is 'John' or 'Jane,'" Harbour explains. "We don't just look at a nose or an eye. We look at the whole face. And in this project we used computer software to look at many, many features of the tumor simultaneously."

Harbour's efforts identified two classes of tumors with distinct molecular signatures. One signature, called class 1, carries
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Contact: Jim Dryden
jdryden@wustl.edu
314-286-0110
Washington University School of Medicine
13-Sep-2006


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