Patients with malignant melanoma often undergo painful biopsies to track the disease’s progression. But could we monitor this progression with just a non-invasive urine sample? Dr. Ivana Špaková, an academic biochemist at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, walks us through her research and what it means for patients with skin cancer.
Malignant melanoma is one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer that can be challenging to identify and even more difficult to treat. It’s also a highly aggressive cancer that can rapidly spread throughout the body, so monitoring its progression is a critical component of any management plan. But undergoing invasive biopsies to track progression can be painful and taxing for many patients.
Could we potentially monitor the progression of malignant melanoma with just a simple urine sample?
That’s what researchers at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia, are proposing, and to learn more about this, we caught up with Dr. Ivana Špaková, associate research scientist and one of the authors of “Fluorescence Biomarkers of Malignant Melanoma Detectable in Urine,” published in Open Chemistry.
Assessing an Alternative
Although invasive biopsies are currently the standard for monitoring the progression of malignant melanoma, they’re far from ideal for both patients and clinicians alike. For patients, the surgical procedure is painful, which may deter them from seeking a timely diagnosis and treatment. And the actual analysis of the samples gathered is an expensive and time-consuming process for lab technicians.
So in an effort to look for an alternative to invasive biopsies, Dr. Špaková and her colleagues analyzed urine samples from patients with malignant melanoma, focusing on specific fluorescent molecules that cancer cells produce during metabolic processes involved in their growth and progression.
“We wanted to determine if there is a relationship between the base metabolite in the urine and presence of malignant melanoma, or skin cancer, as it is commonly used in other diagnostics,” Dr. Špaková said.
But what was just as—if not more—important to her was understanding if and how urine base metabolites correlated with the progression of malignant melanoma.
“Based on our goals and outcomes, we hypothesized that it could be a reliable way to determine the change in actual cell metabolism, which says more about the response to treatment,” Dr. Špaková said.
To find out if their hypothesis was right, the researchers analyzed the urine samples using fluorescence spectrophotometry to find differences in the levels of fluorescent molecules. They also examined gene levels involved in melanoma progression.
Could the Way We Monitor Malignant Melanoma Be Changing?
Based on the samples collected, patients with malignant melanoma had different levels of metabolism-linked fluorescent markers compared to those from healthy controls, and the levels of fluorescent molecules in the urine correlated with the stage of melanoma and the gene expression linked to melanoma progression.
These results show that analyzing urine is an effective, non-invasive procedure that can successfully determine the progression and treatment response of malignant melanoma.
But according to Dr. Špaková, that’s not the only potential result this study might have.
“This study could push spectrophotometry, which was the main method which we used, into the fold in daily laboratory practice to determine the specific changes in the cell metabolism,” she said.
And while urinary biomarkers are an effective measure of malignant melanoma disease progression, Dr. Špaková believes this method could be used to predict and measure the progression of other diseases as well, such as Fabry disease and ALS.
“There is a big field which has a rising interest, and we believe that it can be a suitable method for the determination of patients’ response to treatment and not only in melanoma cases.”
With advances in technology, the potential of urinalysis may lead to tremendous changes in the medical and biomedical research fields. More research is certainly needed in the meantime, but based on this study’s results, it doesn’t look like this line of research is going down the drain anytime soon.