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

Blood tests, sprays, asthma and a non-invasive cap

According to results from a recent phase I clinical trial a novel therapy has improved progression-free and overall survival for patients with newly diagnosed malignant gliomas. This novel therapy called NSC-CRAd-S-pk7 and is an oncolytic adenovirus delivered by neural stem cells, or progenitor cells from the central nervous system that cross the blood-brain barrier to deliver therapeutic molecules to cancer cells. The report’s authors believe this study to be distinctive because it includes patients with newly diagnosed gliomas, rather than recurrent disease.

Scientists have developed a way to detect the presence of glioma in patient urine or blood plasma. Despite the analysis being small and in its infancy, researchers hope that these tests could eventually be used by GPs to monitor patients at high risk of brain tumours – offering a more convenient alternative to regular MRI scans. The researchers developed two approaches in parallel to overcome the challenge of detecting cell-free DNA (cfDNA) from brain tumours. The first approach was applied to patients who have previously had glioma removed and biopsied. The team designed a tumour-guided sequencing test that was able to search for mutations found in the tumour tissue within the cfDNA in the patient’s urine, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and blood plasma. With the second approach, researchers looked for other patterns in the cfDNA that could also indicate the presence of a tumour, without having to identify the mutations.   

We welcome this news that a simple blood or urine test could help not only detect a returning brain tumour in its earliest stages, but also reduce ‘scanxiety’ in patients. This builds on the use of liquid biopsies to improve patient outcomes and ties into the recent research breakthrough from our Centre of Excellence at the University of Plymouth which could see a simple blood test reduce, or in some cases replace, the need for invasive surgery to help determine the best course of treatment for patients with meningioma.

Treatment for Glioblastoma can require intensive radio and chemotherapy that patients are sometimes unable to complete however scientists may have just found a new option: a non-invasive cap that uses an oscillating magnetic field to shrink the tumour. The device was recently tested on a 53-year-old glioblastoma patient, whose tumour showed a remarkable 31 percent size reduction in a short time before the patient sadly passed away from an unrelated traumatic head injury. The helmet is mounted with three strong, rotating permanent magnets that generate an oscillating magnetic field. Using this technology, the researchers were able to reduce glioblastoma volume and mass in cell cultures and human glioblastoma cell xenografts in a laboratory setting.  

The main obstacle to treatment for medulloblastoma is the presence of cancerous stem cells that are resistant to radio and chemotherapy and have the ability to infiltrate and spread in the spinal cord of young patients. However, there is hope for treating group 3 medulloblastoma as researchers have discovered a mechanism that triggers the most aggressive form of the disease. This research includes the identification of two drugs with the potential to block the growth of the cancer and metastases.

Widely reported this week has been plans by our friends at the Brain Tumour Charity for a new clinical trial to test if a cannabis-based mouth spray can treat brain tumours - specifically can Sativex combined with chemotherapy help treat glioblastoma?

This is a very interesting interview with Sloan Kettering Institute scientist Gabriela Chiosis, about her research studying how proteins take shape and interact with each other and how it can lead to disease when these proteins misbehave. She has demonstrated how to discover and develop a new drug that has the ability to detect and reverse protein malfunctions in the central nervous system. The drug is already being tested in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s disease, and another trial will launch soon for glioblastoma.

Researchers have found that asthma drug Pranlukast can effectively turn glioblastoma tumour cells into protective brain cells in a pre-clinical model'. They are now looking to test the drug – taken as a tablet – in humans and if all goes well a clinical trial could start within five years. Although far more tests are needed this could lead to adoption by the NHS within a decade – and potentially faster since the drug has already passed extensive safety tests for its use in asthma.

NaviFUS is a medical device company and its focused ultrasound (FUS) platform seeks to address unmet needs in neuromedicine, such as the drug delivery past the blood brain barrier.  They have begun a clinical trial in which FUS is combined with radiotherapy for the treatment of terminal primary brain tumours.

Finally, an item which although not directly relevant to the brain tumour community now shows a potentially game changing development in the world of neuroscience as Australian researchers hope a new type of brain gel can reverse Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.

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