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National brain tumour research funding needs to increase to £35 million a year

Weekly pick of Neuroscience news from around the world

A key focus of cancer research is finding alternatives to the diagnostic biopsy. For brain tumour patients, a biopsy is particularly invasive and so the prospect of being able to find out more about a tumour via a simple liquid biopsy (e.g. a blood test) is exciting. Although it is yet to be verified in patients, researchers at the University of Sussex have detected new biomarkers that indicate the details of glioblastoma tumours. Biomarkers are any biological characteristics that give useful information about a disease. The scientists believe that the biomarkers detected by the liquid biopsy would even reveal exactly what sub-type of glioblastoma is present. This could be invaluable in personalising treatment regimes.

The strangely-named ‘ Kissing Loops’ have also been capturing some attention this week. The name is a reference to the hairpin-like structures found in the tumour suppressor ‘MEG3’. Kissing loops are particularly important part of MEG3 and are responsible for its anti-tumour properties. If the kissing loops breakdown, then MEG3’s ability to suppress tumours diminishes. MEG3 is abundant in the brain and brain tumours can develop when MEG3 is not working properly. Designing drugs that stabilise MEG3’s kissing loops might improve its tumour suppressor function to the point where it can arrest tumour growth and even eliminate the need for surgery.

Certain types of brain tumour behave differently between sexes (as do many other cancer types). Generally, these types of brain tumours are more aggressive in males than in females. Researchers based in Barcelona have discovered more about the molecular causes of this difference. They tested brain tumours in vinegar flies and discovered that by removing a protein called PHf7 from male flies the aggressiveness of the tumours was markedly reduced, reaching levels similar to those present in female flies. This is interesting as PHf7 is also present in humans.

Accessible, properly categorised brain tumour tissue is an essential resource for any brain tumour researcher. This is why Brain Tumour Research is one of the backers of the BRAIN UK tissue banking registry. Cancer researcher Dr Helena Robinson, from the University of Bangor, explains how patients’ tissue is used in the laboratory.

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