Genetics help solve eye cancer mystery

January 15, 2007

It is now possible, for the first time, to biopsy tissue from a living eye in order to determine which tumours possess high metastatic risk, according to a report in the November 2006 issue of Ophthalmology.

It is now possible, for the first time, to biopsy tissue from a living eye in order to determine which tumours possess high metastatic risk, according to a report in the November 2006 issue of Ophthalmology.

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles, Jules Stein Eye Institute, USA, have pioneered a technique that allows them to identify which tumours are the most aggressive and are likely to spread. Ocular melanoma attacks the pigment cells in the retina and previous studies discovered that subjects who are missing one copy of chromosome 3 in their tumour tissue are more likely to have highly aggressive cancers.

The UCLA researchers, using this genetic marker, studied a group of nine patients, newly diagnosed with ocular melanoma. Each patient underwent surgery to implant a small disc designed to shrink the tumour and during surgery surgeons used an ultra-fine needle to collect cells from the tumour and send them to the laboratory for culture. After growing the cells a geneticist analysed them to determine whether they were missing the essential gene. Of the nine patients, four were identified as being high risk and five as being low risk.

The authors believe that this new technique will not only provide a greater medical understanding of each case but will also go some way to help alleviate the patients psychological trauma of not knowing what kind of cancer they have and whether it is likely to be life-threatening or not.