Associate Professor Rick Sturm

Principal Research Fellow

The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute
Faculty of Medicine

Affiliate Associate Professor

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences
Faculty of Science
+61 7 344 37380


Our work on human pigmentation genetics has allowed understanding of normal variation in this physical trait and the associated genotypic risk for skin cancer. The genes that determine an individual's skin phototype and the cellular mechanisms that result in the tanning response of melanocytes after UV-exposure of the skin are actively being investigated.

Dr Rick Sturm is group leader for Molecular Genetics of Pigmentation research at the IMB.

Research Interests

  • Skin, hair, eye colour and cancer � MC1R/OCA2, the genetic links
    Pigmentary traits such as red hair and fair skin, moles, eye colour, lack of tanning ability and propensity to freckle have been identified as genetic risk factors for skin cancer when combined with the environmental risk factor of high ultraviolet exposure. The major areas of investigation are the role of the OCA2 gene in directing eye colour, and the role of human melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene variants in directing skin phototype and response to UV-induced ligand binding and receptor activation. The MC1R coding sequence is highly polymorphic in human populations and we have examined MC1R variant allele frequencies in the general community as well as a collection of adolescent dizygotic and monozygotic twins with defined pigmentation characteristics. Subscription required to access this paper Variant allele frequencies have also been determined in several case-control studies of sporadic melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and in familial melanoma kindreds collected within Australia. These studies have shown that three MC1R alleles � Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp and Asp294His � were associated with increased risk in all forms of skin cancer and with penetrance and age of onset in familial melanoma in CDKN2A mutation carriers. There is a significant MC1R variant allele heterozygote carrier effect on skin phototype and skin cancer risk, which indicates that these alleles do not behave in a strictly recessive manner.
  • Characterisation of melanoblast stem cell differentiation
    The process of development and differentiation of the melanocytic cell lineage is being investigated using primary melanoblast and melanocyte cells cultured in vitro from human skin. This will provide information to allow the genes and processes involved in melanoma tumour formation and metastasis to be examined. These studies focus on the identification and molecular characterisation of the genes involved in melanocyte function.
  • Mechanisms of melanoma metastasis
    Expression of the �3 integrin gene in melanoma in situ has been found to be the single most important marker of metastasis yet discovered. Experiments to investigate the effects of this expression has involved the use of Adenoviral gene transduction of the �3 integrin subunit into radial growth phase (RGP) melanoma cell lines and differential gene screening. A skin reconstruction model was used to assay the invasivness of RGP melanoma cells after ectopic �3 integrin expression and these studies have discovered induction of the anti-adhesive protein osteonectin is required for melanoma metastasis.


  • PhD, The University of Adelaide
  • BSc(Hons), The University of Adelaide


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Featured Publications

Book Chapter

  • Beaumont, K. A., Liu, Y. Y. and Sturm, R. A. (2009). The melanocortin-1 receptor gene polymorphism and association with human skin cancer. In Ya-Xiong Tao (Ed.), Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science: G protein-coupled receptors in health and disease, Part A (pp. 85-153) San Deigo, California, U.S.A.: Elsevier : Academic Press.

  • Cook, Anthony L., Boyle, Glen M., Leonard, J. Helen, Parsons, Peter G. and Sturm, Richard A. (2006). BRN2 in melanocytic cell development, differentiation and transformation. In V. J. Hearing and A. P. L. Leong (Ed.), From Melanocytes to Melanoma: The Progression to Malignancy 8 ed. (pp. 149-168) New Jersey: Humana Press. doi:10.1007/978-1-59259-994-3_8

  • Sturm, R A (2006). Transcription Factors: POU. In Geoffrey J. Laurent and Steven D Shapiro (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Respiratory Medicine 1 ed. (pp. 269-274) London: Elsevier Ltd.

  • Sturm, R. A. (2003). Colour in our Genes - Natural selection operating through climatic, dietary or immunological pressures?. In Jobling, M A; Hurles, M E; Tyler-Smith and C (Ed.), Human Evolutionary Genetics (pp. 415-416) New York, USA: Garland Publishing Taylor & Francis Books Ltd..

  • Leonard, J.H., Cook, A., Van Gele, M., Speleman, F. and Sturm, R. A. (2003). Expression of developmentally regulated transcription factors in merkel cell carcinoma. In Baumann, Klaus, I; Halata, Zdenek; Moll and Ingrid (Ed.), The Merkel Cell Structure-Development-Function-Cancerogenesis 1 ed. (pp. 203-218) Heidelberg, Germany: Springer Verlag.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

Completed Supervision