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

Muscle measurement, flash radiation, myeloid cells and reprogramming; Worldwide research update

The piece of research leading PR for this year’s National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Showcase, a virtual replacement for the usual conference, is brain tumour related with a co- author being funded by Brain Tumour Research.  It looks at how artificial intelligence can help to improve prognosis and treatment for glioblastoma.

We asked report co-author Consultant Clinical Oncologist, specialising in neuro-oncology at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Dr Matt Williams to comment on this research and he told us:

“We are really pleased that the NCRI have chosen to highlight our work. The underlying idea is relatively simple, but this is the first time that anyone has used deep learning to look at muscle bulk in brain tumour patients.

“This approach lets us use images that are acquired as part of routine care, and uses a computer to process them. Once trained, it takes less than 10 seconds to process a scan.

“From a clinical perspective, we know that patients with this type of tumour generally have poor survival rates however some people obviously survive longer than others and the really important question is why? Our work uses a computer to assess patient-related factors (rather than tumour-based ones) to help us better understand prognosis in this group of patients.

“The next steps are to extend and refine this work. We want to test it in a wider group of patients, and also make it easier to use and more automated. We can then look at incorporating measures of muscle mass into clinical work, and ultimately understanding how that information can improve patient outcomes. It builds on research support and infrastructure provided by Brain Tumour Research, and is part of our wider program applying AI techniques to brain tumours.”

The full press release on the NCRI website can be accessed here

Worldwide news now, and this sounds hugely promising; Traditional radiation therapy exposes a tumour and nearby normal tissue to radiation for several minutes at a time, but Flash radiation therapy (Flash-RT) allows delivery of the same dose in only tenths of seconds. The speed eliminates many of the toxicities that normally plague cancer survivors long after radiation treatments, significantly decreasing side effects such as inflammation and impairments to cognition. Using Flash-RT, researchers found that the same total dose of radiation delivered at quicker dose rates removed brain tumours just as effectively as the traditional method. Charles Limoli, professor of radiation oncology, said of Flash-RT “In the last 30 or 40 years, I'd say, there's been nothing in the field of radiation sciences as exciting as this."

Industry news, and here’s an update on Berubicin a novel drug candidate in GBM therapy for children and adult patients, as a part of the project “New approach to glioblastoma treatment addressing the critical unmet medical need”. The main goal of the project is to implement a multicentre paediatric phase I clinical trial to determine the maximum tolerated dose and also clinical trials in adults, in order to confirm the efficacy of the drug.

Here’s a fascinating article about how cancer cells mediate immune suppression in the brain.  Scientists have long believed that the brain protects itself from an aggressive immune response to keep down inflammation. However, that evolutionary control may work against it when a cancer cell attempts to spread to the brain. Researchers showed that one type of cell important for immunity, called a myeloid cell, can suppress the immune response—which has the effect of allowing breast cancer cells to metastasize to the brain to form secondary tumour cells there. Click on the link above to find out more.

Finally, welcome news on a new tactic in the war against cancer that involves reprogramming the immune system to fight tumours like GBM instead of fuelling them. Evidently GBM cells secrete a specific factor, called interleukin 33 (IL-33) and it is  this substance that draws immune cells to the tumour and helps to create an environment that changes the function of the immune cells. Instead of fighting the tumour, the immune cells go to work for it, contributing to the tumour's rapid growth.

Researchers found that by stopping IL-33 from reaching the nucleus of a tumour cell, it crippled the entire process and by interrupting this step, the immune cells could enter the tumour and do the job they were meant to do. Attack the cancer.

Can we reprogramme our immune system precisely to attack and destroy glioblastoma and other cancers? Is the answer within all of us? Will we one day look back at interventions such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy as blunt tools?

Possibly, but not yet – more research news next week and if you want these updates emailed directly to you let me know; hugh@braintumourresearch.org

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