From the 20th to the 22nd March 2018 the MELGEN Consortium joined forces with the GenoMEL and BioGenoMEL consortia to hold their annual scientific meeting, this year hosted by the University Hospital Essen in Germany. In contrast to last year’s sun and high temperatures, the start of this year’s meeting was accompanied by temperatures beginning with a minus sign and snow on the ground…
The first session focused on the melanoma research being carried out in Essen. Chaired by Prof. Dirk Schadendorf, talks covered topics which included: melanoma epidemiology in the in period since the start of the German National Skin Cancer screening programme (Dr Andreas Strang); an overview of melanoma therapies used in stage IV melanoma; adjuvant therapies and prognosis in stage III melanoma (Dr Lisa Zimmer); tumour heterogeneity, plasticity and resistance in melanoma (Alexander Roesch); epigenomics of normal and abnormal cell differentiation (Bernard Horsthermeke); and, genetics and epigenetics of uveal melanoma (Michael Zeschnigk).
The second session focused on melanoma susceptibility genes featuring the research of ESR03, Marina Juraleviciute, on MX2, a gene identified as a melanoma suscepitlity gene by the GWAS consortium; and ESR01, Aravind Sankar, who discussed the finctional effect of gene mutations which contribute to melanoma development. Rounding out the session were presentations from GenoMEL scientists from the United States, the Netherlands, Mexico, Scotland and Austria, including an update on the most recent GenoMEL genomewide association study of genetic variants called single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with increased risk of developing melanoma in the general population.
The second day of the conference continued on the theme of melanoma susceptibility genes and melanoma epidemiology with a presentation from ESR02, Eirini Christodoulou, on a specific genetic variant which may act as a modifer of risk of developing melanoma and pancreatic to those people carrying a mutation in the known melanoma risk gene CDKN2A. There was also talks from Ann Cust from Melanoma Institute Australia on sunscreen use and melanoma risk in young Australian adults, and Brigitte Bressac- de Paillerets from the Institut de Cancérologie Gustave Roussy on gentic mechanisms contributiong to pediatric melanoma.
The afternoon of the second day focused on somatic changes in melanoma, that is changes that occur in the tumour itself, and this session saw talks from ESR07 Sofia Chen on the mutational landscape of primary melanoma tumours; ESR08 Catarina Salgado on DNA hydroxymethylation (a form of regulation) in melanoma and naevi; and ESR10 Adriana Sanna on epigenetic regulation (reversible changes to the DNA which can turn genes on/off) of melanoma cell phenotypes. At the end of a day filled with cutting edge science the delegates enjoyed a fasinating tour around the Zollverein Unesco World Heritage Site followed by a lovely conference dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 3 focused on research into immune responses to melanoma and immunotherapy, and melanoma survival, with the programme almost entirely comprised of talks detailing the research of the MELGEN ESRs. Kicking off the morning session were Lund students ESR11, Rita Cabrita, talking about B- and T-cells associated with a tumour as an important prognostic factor in melanoma and ESR09, Shamik Mitra dissussing the tumour immune microenviroment from the perspective of DNA methylation. The focus then moved to the Leeds researchers ESR05 Joanna Pozniak, and ESR06 Sathya Muralidhar, who gave back to back presentations on MYC expression and smoking as modulators of immune response to melanoma and the protective effect of vitamin D receptor (VDR) expression on melanoma survival associated with increased an anti-tumour immune response.
The session continued with talks from Sabrina Schindler (SWISS1, Zurich) who is working on profiling immune responses in patients undergoing immunotherapy, and Sonia Leonardelli (ESR14, Essen) who presented data on chromosomal abnormaities predisposing to the development of immunotherapy resistance. Continuing with research from the Essen group ESR15, Renata Varaljai, discussed the use of cell-free circulating tumour DNA, carrying known melanoma mutations, to monitor metastatic melanoma progression under therapy.
The afternoon session began with from Zurich student Ishani Banik (SWISS2) who presented her ongoing work using zebrafish melanoma models to perform in vivo screening of functional novel oncogenic driver mutations.
Finally the session and the conference was brought to a close with two bioinformatic project presentations from Leeds students ESR12 Rohit Thakur and ESR13 Joey Mark Diaz. Rohit presented his work on using machine learning applications for predicting prognosis in primary melanoma based on gene expression profiles derived from primary melanoma tumours. Joey then followed up with an analysis of DNA copy number data derived from the same primary melanoma tumours.
One aspect of the GenoMEL/MELGEN conference which is very important in the delevopment of the researchers is the poster session which this year was held over two days giving the researchers more time to discuss their research with delegates from some of world’s leading melanoma research groups covering a whole spectrum of disciplines from front line clinicians to data analysts.
The 15th Annual Joint GenoMEL/BioGenoMEL/MELGEN Scientific Meeting was deemed to be a great success with the delegates agreeing that the scope and standard of the science presented was superb. Indeed, the small team of non-MELGEN delegates whom we had tasked with awarding the prize for best MELGEN presentation agreed we had assigned them an unenviable job as there was very little to choose between the ESRs. In the end the deemed that tow prizes for best presentations should be awarded this year. The two ESRs chosen were Sabrina Schindler (SWISS1) from the Zurich group and Joanna Pozniak (ESR05) from the Leeds group. They were presented with their certificates of achievement by the head of the MELGEN consortium, Prof Julia Newton Bishop FMedSci. We would like to congratulate them on their achievement.