MicroRNA Panel Could Aid in the Detection of Uveal Melanoma

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A blood test could soon become a monitoring tool for the early detection of uveal melanoma. Stark et al discovered markers in the blood that can differentiate between a benign mole and a melanoma, while also determining whether the cancer has metastasized, according to findings they published in Translational Vision Science & Technology.

First study author Mitchell Stark, PhD, of the University of Queensland, said the blood test could monitor very early signs of the disease. “This blood test was able to detect the difference between a benign mole located at the back of the eye and a melanoma in the eye,” he explained.

“The test also has the potential to show if the melanoma has metastasized and spread to other areas of the body,” he continued. “Moles or nevi in the eye are common, but they can be difficult to monitor because changes to their shape or coloring can’t always be seen as easily as on the skin. Outcomes are poor for people with melanoma in their eye if the cancer spreads to the liver. Given that having nevi in the eye is fairly common, this test may allow us to better screen these patients for early signs of melanoma formation.”

The study is a progression of research conducted by Dr. Stark at QIMR Berghofer, where the panel of biomarkers was first developed and used to detect melanoma on the skin.

Methods and Further Use

In this research, blood samples were collected from people with either benign nevi or melanoma in the back of their eye, in addition to a small number of metastasized cases. The samples were then tested against the panel of microRNA biomarkers to distinguish the stage of disease.

A panel of six microRNAs (miR-16, miR-145, miR-146a, miR-204, miR-211, and miR-363-3p) showed significant differences between participants with uveal nevi compared with patients with localized and metastatic uveal melanoma. miR-211 was able to accurately distinguish metastatic disease from localized uveal melanoma (P < .0001). When evaluated as a group, the six-miRNA panel had the ability to identify the presence of uveal melanoma where four or more miRNAs reached or exceeded the cutpoint.

Dr. Stark said that after further development, the blood test had the potential to be used as a monitoring tool in conjunction with optometrists, general practitioners, and specialists.

“If someone were to go to their optometrist for a regular checkup and a mole was found, you could have this blood test at each routine visit to help monitor mole changes. If the biomarker in the blood had increased, it might be an early warning sign of melanoma. Knowing this patient was high-risk means they could be monitored more closely for the potential spread of cancer and be [moved] more rapidly through the health-care system.”

Disclosure: This project was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Merchant Charitable Foundation. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

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