Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS


The incidence of melanoma is increasing worldwide, with an estimated 76,250 new cases of melanoma and nearly 10,000 deaths from the disease in the USA in 2012 (American Cancer Society, 2012; These upward trends are worrying, as malignant melanoma is one of the most difficult cancers to treat, due to its ability to spread quickly and its resistance to standard chemotherapeutic agents. In order to counteract this trend, targeted therapies that inhibit melanoma metastasis are required and are being developed. Melanoma is a disease with high metastatic potential even at very early stages of development. In present clinical practice, screening for melanoma is based on clinical examination. Current methods for detection, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of melanoma fail to satisfactorily reduce the morbidity associated with the disease. A biomarker assay that could reduce these uncertainties would have a significant positive clinical impact.

The SYS-MEL research programme investigates the molecular basis underlying melanoma which may hold the key to improving patient care. SYS-MEL is a comprehensive project in which researchers from both the academic and the industrial field work together to identify and validate candidate melanoma biomarkers that are useful for clinical practice. It is focused on identifying novel prognostic and predictive biomarkers for melanoma, as well as new targets for melanoma treatment.
The SYS-MEL project makes particular use of advanced systems biology techniques to link all work projects. Core methodologies that are employed include antibody-based profiling, computer-assisted pathological interpretation and sophisticated systems models linked to biological pathways. Use of tissue microarrays (TMAs) allows hundreds of samples from melanoma patients to be assessed simultaneously. Subsequently, combination of TMA-derived data, image analysis and high-performance computing leads to high-throughput validation of protein biomarkers. These generated results are being utilised in systems modelling to add benefit to/improve upon classical biostatistical analysis. Such approaches are ultimately being used to better predict inherent risk of disease and progression and outcome to standard chemotherapy.

Considerable scientific progress has been achieved to date within the first two years of the SYS-MEL project. A large collection of candidate biomarkers has been evaluated in respect to expression within clinical tissues, with several of these showing strong promise in terms of prognostic/predictive utility. In addition, a mathematical model has been developed by integrating mTOR, P-Rex1, and ERK pathways, and then systemically investigating the influence of commonly found mutations on drug response. The results from the SYS-MEL programme are being published in international scientific journals, with several new product opportunities for the two participating companies (OncoMark and PDL).

The SYS-MEL project ( is funded under the Marie Curie Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) programme and runs for 4 years from November 2013 – October 2017. This is a pan-European project that functions as a collaborative effort undertaken by 6 partners (4 academic institutions and 2 industrial partners) across 3 EU countries. It has an overall budget of just over €1.9 million, which funds both recruitments and secondments between the six partners. Crucially, to this stage, the SYS-MEL programme has provided a fertile training ground for 10 early stage and experienced researchers, each of whom have gained valuable inter-sectoral experience alongside increased scientific knowledge and training.

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