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

Silicone structures, robots and the role of copper – our worldwide brain tumour research update

Unfortunately, Glioblastomas cannot always be completely or permanently removed by surgery, necessitating combined follow up treatments of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. These can be associated with side effects on the entire human body. So-called ‘local therapy’ approaches are being explored as alternatives. These do not act systemically (affect everywhere), but release drugs in low concentrations, specifically where they are actually needed. This can help to relieve the entire body and reduce side effects. Scientists are developing new materials for local treatment strategies of chronic brain diseases and for the treatment of glioblastomas, they have recently presented an approach which uses a special microstructured silicone matrix. This silicone structure releases therapeutics into the brain over several days enabling a more tailored drug release over a longer period of time, allowing a more gentle and efficient treatment. This special material structure is made of biocompatible silicone, just a few millimetres in size. Fine microchannels of about two micrometres in diameter are etched into the material and these microchannels form a densely-branched network, which can be filled with different drugs. After the surgical removal of a glioblastoma, the material can be placed directly in the resection cavity of the brain where the drug will be slowly released from the microchannel network and directly unfold its therapeutic effect on any remaining tumour cells.

It is known that cancer cells, including those found in brain tumours, "feed" on copper, often having up to six times the normal levels of the metal inside the tumour cells. Australian researchers have studied tumour samples from more than 90 patients with neuroblastoma and 90 patients with gliomas. Both these cancers have high mortality rates and to date have not responded well to cancer immunotherapy. While immunotherapy has been a breakthrough for many cancer patients, some cancers camouflage themselves from current immunotherapies by expressing the aptly titled Programmed Death Ligand or PD-L1. By looking at human biopsies the researchers found a correlation between high levels of copper and increased expression of PD-L1. Their deduction is that blocking copper uptake in tumour cells may boost the  immune system

Robots are set to perform rare spinal surgeries in the UAE and by next year, the robot will be able to perform procedures on the brain. The Excelsius-GPS (E-GPS) robot is developed by US-based Globus Medical, who revealed that with upgraded software the robot will have the technology to do deep brain stimulation and tumour resections of the brain and will be launched commercially in the first quarter of next year.

A new study explores the cyclical role that cancer cell metabolism may play in regulating brain tumour genes. Researchers showed that experimental drugs designed to lower the body’s natural production of alpha-ketoglutarate extended the lives of mice harbouring DIPG tumours by slowing the growth of the cancer cells. Interestingly, they also found that artificially raising alpha-ketoglutarate levels with DIPG-causing genes may slow the growth of other brain tumours.

Results of a study using adjuvant temozolomide (TMZ), irinotecan, and bevacizumab (BEV) for the treatment of paediatric high-grade glioma have been released. The three-drug regime (called TIB) was effective at prolonging survival showing  tolerability in paediatric high-grade glioma patients.

Finally, this week the brain is divided down the middle from front to back into two halves called the cerebral hemispheres. Each hemisphere is divided into four lobes: frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal. Brain tumours located in the lobes are called supratentorial and tumours located in the cerebellum or brainstem are called infratentorial. Brain tumours, regardless of their location, can cause headaches, seizures and problems with multi-tasking. Here is a simple explanation of the specific changes that may be experienced based on the tumour location.

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