MRA's Acral Melanoma Cell Line Catalog: A Launching Pad for Research

By Raj Talukdar, MRA Science Intern | 25 May 2021 | Science

Acral Melanoma Cell Line Catalog

Acral melanoma, also called acral lentiginous melanoma, is a rare subtype of melanoma that forms on the palms, soles of feet, between fingers and toes, or under nails. Acral melanoma represents about 3% of melanoma diagnoses each year and occurs in people of all races and ethnicities evenly – regardless of skin type or pigmentation. Patients facing acral melanoma tend to be diagnosed later and have overall worse outcomes than patients facing non-acral cutaneous melanoma.

In the past decade, more than a dozen new treatments have been approved for advanced melanoma such as the BRAF+MEK targeted therapies, checkpoint immunotherapy, and intralesional therapies. Unfortunately, many of these drugs are not as effective for acral melanoma as they are for other cutaneous melanomas. MRA is focused on funding research that can improve treatment options for this rare and aggressive subtype of melanoma.

To date, MRA has invested $8.1 million to support 18 research awards with a primary focus on acral melanoma. Investigators have shown that acral melanoma is distinct from other forms of melanoma at the genomic level. Acral melanoma has fewer mutations than what is typically seen in cutaneous melanoma and instead is caused by larger structural changes called chromosomal rearrangements.

Unfortunately, cancer researchers cannot easily produce or buy acral melanoma cell lines. It takes a certain expertise as these cell lines are painstakingly created and maintained by only a handful of researchers across the globe. As a result, this serves as a barrier for researchers who want to study acral melanoma in depth. Many do not know how to get started or whether acral cell lines even exist in the research community.

In a collaborative effort to address this hurdle and to facilitate research focused on acral melanoma, MRA has created and annotated a catalog of acral melanoma cell lines from various institutions worldwide. The catalog includes cell lines created by researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Wistar Institute, Yale University, the University of Zurich, the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia and more. 

Acral Catalog

The catalog will serve as a launching pad for researchers who want to study acral melanoma – providing easier access to basic information and helping them to avoid the timely process of creating new cell lines from scratch. In addition, this effort fosters collaboration, transparency, and will help to facilitate synergistic efforts and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. 

The MRA aims to keep updating the list of available acral melanoma cell lines as they become available.  Gaps that need to be addressed include ensuring genomic characterization of all cell lines is available, broader representation of racial and ethnic diversity, and perhaps in the future establishing several cell lines from a patient’s primary acral melanoma and matched locally recurrent tumor and/or metastatic disease.

MRA hopes this resource will help accelerate research to a future with abundant available therapeutics for treatment of this rare subtype of melanoma.