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Australian researchers may have discovered a cure for cancer.
They have discovered a range of new treatments for melanoma cancer which could save up to 1500 lives a year. The Sydney Melanoma Unit at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is conducting a clinical trial in which individual tumours are injected with a red dye called rose bengal.
Unit director John Thompson said within seven days the tumours become necrotic and die, and within 14 days they simply lift off the skin. Professor Thompson said an earlier trial of 20 patients showed between 60 and 80 per cent of tumours were successfully treated with one injection. The trial also found that rose bengal didn't affect healthy tissue and seemed to induce a beneficial immune system response that killed off other tumours that hadn't been injected.
"It has been interesting to observe that not only injected tumour deposits undergo involution [reduction] and necrosis but non-injected 'bystander' lesions sometimes undergo involution as well," he told the Australasian College of Dermatologists annual meeting last week.
Rose bengal has been used for 50 years to diagnose liver and eye cancer. It has also been used as an insecticide.
Professor Thompson said phase one of the trial had proved the treatment was safe, although one woman ended up in intensive care with a serious reaction after driving for 1 hours in the summer sun after having her injection. For another study, Professor Thompson is hoping to recruit 65 patients who have melanomas that can't be treated with surgery.
Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with 9500 cases diagnosed annually. One in 19 Australians can expect to be diagnosed with a melanoma in their lifetime. If detected early, there is an excellent chance of survival. However, standard chemotherapy is not highly effective once the melanoma has spread.
The development of a vaccine has been elusive but researchers at the Newcastle Melanoma Unit have made a surprising breakthrough.
Professor Thompson said about 120 patients were given an injection made from materials from their own tumour. The procedure was designed to stimulate the body's immune system to reject the tumour.
The patients had metastatic (widespread) stage IV disease and an average life expectancy of six to nine months. The trial showed those who got the vaccine had a 40 per cent chance of surviving for five years, compared to 22 per cent for those who weren't vaccinated.
"It surprised us greatly - there was a fairly substantial benefit in the patients who received the vaccine," Professor Thompson said.
At Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Diona Damian has treated three patients with extensive widespread melanoma with diphencyprone (DPCP), a chemical used to treat warts and hair loss.
Associate Professor Damian said two patients are disease-free three years and one year later respectively, while in a third patient, the application of DPCP appeared to slow the progression of the disease but he died 18 months later.