Researchers at the University of Queensland have found that a simple blood test can help detect melanoma in the eye at an early stage.

The research team discovered a microRNA biomarker in the blood that can distinguish between a benign mole and melanoma.

The blood test could be used as a monitoring tool for the early detection of the disease.

Although moles in the eye are common, they can be difficult to monitor as changes to shape or colouring cannot always be detected.

University of Queensland Diamantina Institute early career research fellow Mitchell Stark said: “This blood test was able to detect the difference between a benign mole located at the back of the eye and melanoma in the eye. The test also has the potential to show if the melanoma has metastasised and spread to other areas of the body.

“Outcomes are poor for people with melanoma in their eye if their cancer spreads to the liver. Given that having naevi in the eye is fairly common, this test may allow us to better screen these patients for early signs of melanoma formation.”

The study is an advancement of research where the panel of biomarkers was initially developed to detect melanoma on the skin.

Researchers collected blood samples from patients with either benign mole or melanoma, along with a small number of metastases cases.

Subsequently, samples were tested against the panel of microRNA biomarkers to differentiate the stage of the disease.

National Health and Medical Research Council and the Merchant Charitable Foundation funded the project.

Stark added that with further development, there is potential to use the blood test as a monitoring tool in conjunction with GPs, optometrists and specialists.