Contribution of autophagy to the maintenance, invasion and metastasis of melanoma stem-like sub populations.

Mouse models of cancer are a valuable tool for the investigation of tumour growth, progression and response to therapy. However, as these models likely cause pain and distress to the mouse, researchers have an obligation to minimise the use of mice, and if possible replace them with non-animal alternatives. The current proposal aims to develop and optimise two novel models, a 3D in vitro human melanoma skin equivalent (MSE) and an in vivo zebrafish xenograft of human melanoma, to replace the use of mice in research. Malignant melanoma is a growing world health concern, with an incidence that has risen more than any other malignancy in the last 40 years. Although curable by surgical resection at early disease stages, metastatic disease is highly invasive, and evolves with an extensive repertoire of molecular defences against immunological and cytotoxic attack, rendering this type of tumour, as yet, incurable. Targeting melanoma stem-like subpopulations, including those expressing stem cell markers CD271 and ABCB5, which constitute a self-renewing, tumour-maintaining subpopulation, that sustain melanoma growth and drive tumour progression, may represent a novel therapeutic strategy for melanoma. Since pilot data also suggests CD271/ABCB5 expressing melanoma subpopulations use autophagy, a critical recycling mechanism for the maintainence of cellular homeostasis, modulating autophagy may offer a novel therapeutic approach to target these cells. This project will thus use the developed MSE and zebrafish xenograft models of human melanoma to test the hypothesis that autophagy contributes to the maintenance, invasiveness and metastatic potential of CD271/ABCB5 expressing stem-like melanoma subpopulations.

Beaumont KA, Hill DS, Daignault SM, Lui GY, Sharp DM, Gabrielli B, Weninger W, Haass NK (2016). Cell cycle phase-specific drug resistance as an escape mechanism of melanoma cells. J Invest Dermatol 136(7):1479-89. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.02.805. 

Hill DS, Robinson ND, Caley MP, Chen M, O'Toole EA, Armstrong JL, Przyborski S, Lovat PE (2015). A novel fully humanized 3D skin equivalent to model early melanoma invasion. Mol Cancer Ther 14(11): 2665-73. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-15-0394. 

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Principal investigator

Dr David Hill


Newcastle University

Grant reference number


Award date:

Sep 2014 - Aug 2017

Grant amount