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

Fighting brain tumours by growing mini-brains

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have been growing pea-sized organoids grown from stem cells which recreate features of full-scale brains. The mini-brains are similar enough to real brains that they can be used for testing out medical treatments to see how a full-sized brain would respond.

Different people respond in different ways to the various treatment options currently available. After surgery to remove a tumour, doctors typically begin further treatment using radiation or chemotherapy around one month later. That means there isn’t always time to perform genetic analysis to see which treatment might be best suited for a particular patient but the doctors really need to know what will work and start further treatment as soon as possible.

This is where the mini-brains come in. Doctors can take stem cells from a patient’s tumour and grow them into a tumour infiltrated mini-brain within a few weeks. These organoids can then be implanted into mouse brains, and doctors can test how they respond to different treatments. They can try different combinations of drugs, or even CAR T-cell therapy in which a patient’s immune system cells are changed so they attack the cancer cells. In this way they can see which treatment is most effective for a particular tumour, and then apply that treatment to the patient.

In addition, mini brains could be used to select participants for future clinical trials through enabling scientists and clinicians to make informed decisions on what new methods and combinations are most likely to help which patients.

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