RESEARCH GETS RESULTS... it's the only way forward to find a cure for brain tumours
“Laboratory-based research is fundamental to the provision of improved diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to brain tumour. Such research within the UK is notoriously poorly funded and only a few dedicated brain tumour research laboratories exist” says Geoff Pilkington, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Neuro-oncology at the University of Portsmouth.
The University funding system does not provide for experienced, tenured staff positions in any one discipline such as neuro-oncology (brain tumour) research. Currently neuro-oncology research teams across the UK are reliant on brain tumour charity funding to support their work and are therefore only able to recruit PhD and MD students, many of who are part time, with little technical staff assistance. They also have to rely on contributions from other University academic research staff who are not integral to the group.
In order that UK neuro-oncology research can gain in strength and stature, we need to finance existing research centres properly so that they can establish laboratory-based brain tumour research centres which employ experienced and intellectually innovative staff to carry the discipline towards provision of a basis for better outcome in patients unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with any form of brain tumour, independent of age, location or type. Currently research scientists are able to apply for grant funding from the few brain tumour charities which already exist - and to whom the neuro-oncology research community already owe considerable gratitude - to provide for 3 year PhD studentships and junior postdoctoral researchers to undertake various research projects. They are desperate for continuity of research programmes and to keep the best young postdoctoral researchers within the field to develop their careers and take over from the few who have been “flying the flag” nationally for this form of research over the past three decades.
A budget of £7m per annum over say seven centres would go some considerable way to achieving this goal.
Staffing: Each centre could appoint one new senior scientist (Reader/Professor), two senior postdoctoral researchers (Senior Research Fellows) – some of whom, in the fullness of time, would inevitably be offered tenured University Lectureships – as well as two experienced technicians (to look after specific apparatus and techniques) and a dedicated Neuro-oncology Research Secretary. Continuing to make similar Scientific appointments each year would create a strong and experienced team, covering various specialities within the field and within ten years the UK would undoubtedly be able to boast centres of excellence and, more importantly, of achievement. This would account for around £350,000 p.a. per centre.
Equipment, updated software programmes & service warranties: Some brain tumour research centres such as the University of Portsmouth already, arguably, have the best equipped brain tumour research laboratories within the UK, particularly in the field of cell imaging and cellular biology. Continued provision of annual service and maintenance of high specification, as well as expensive equipment is very costly and there is little or no provision for this within the University budget. Around £100,000 p.a. is required for this extended warranty. In addition, all microscopes are provided with comprehensive image acquisition and analysis software packages. Centres have to buy into such packages each year to continue provision of this service and to be able to access important new upgrades which regularly become available and add to the functionality of the equipment. This amounts to around £50,000 p.a.
Laboratory Refurbishment: The changing nature of research, which is to a great extent a function of the new staff we would be likely to engage, would require provision of additional space involving refurbishment/adaptation of existing laboratories and offices. A sum of £100,000 p.a. should cover this.
Running costs and new equipment: As new equipment comes onto the market and with changing research strategies, it is necessary to add to the equipment base of any laboratory. In addition, no equipment lasts forever and a policy of replacement must be in operation. An estimated £200,000 p.a. would cover most of these needs.
These items are: General laboratory chemicals as well as specialised cellular and molecular reagents, drugs, cell culture flasks and solution etc are expensive and costs invariably rise each year. A budget of £150,000 p.a. would prevent scientists from worrying about where the next penny would come from to provide for these essential items.
Conference attendance: Conferences provide for dissemination of research data among scientific peers and also provide opportunities for both experienced and junior members of the teams to see what is going on in the larger brain tumour research environment. This is an essential part of the education and development programme but there are no funds to cover this for non-clinical researchers. Such conferences, held both within the UK and throughout the world, are costly and attendance at such meetings has been increasingly compromised by lack of funds. The sum of money required for this would depend upon the size of the group but currently a figure of around £50,000 p.a. would cover costs to enable staff and PhD students to attend most of the major national and international conferences.
Brain Tumour Research aims to provide funds of this order for each of the existing brain tumour research centres within the UK (there are very few dedicated centres where a sufficient critical mass of researchers work within their own specified environment) as well as providing for the establishment of further centres. UK brain tumour research will then be in a position to compete favourably with that in North America and other, better-funded, nations and bring renewed hope to brain tumour sufferers. Around 10 regional centres - not necessarily based at the same site as clinical centres - would be appropriate to re-invigorate experimental neuro-oncology in the UK.