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

INSR, awareness days and milk

A study in Stem Cell Reports, pinpoints a specific protein known as the insulin receptor (INSR), which is abundant on the neural stem cells that reside in the brain's subventricular zone. During development, neural stem cells give rise to the entire nervous system, and they persist into adulthood. Over their lifespan these neural stem cells produce new neurons and non-neuronal cells that maintain the infrastructure and functioning of the brain. When examining brain tumours scientists found that INSR plays a crucial role in sustaining and maintaining a population of glioblastoma stem cells. When they inactivated the INSR in the glioblastoma stem cells they inhibited the growth of those primitive tumour forming cells.

Recently published in  Nature Genetics, this study has identified a drug that inhibits growth of the most aggressive meningiomas and how to most accurately identify which meningiomas will respond to the drug. The drug is a newer cancer treatment called abemaciclib. The scientists demonstrated the effectiveness of the drug in select patients, mouse models, a 3D living tissue brain tumour (organoids) and cell cultures. Investigators discovered meningiomas can be divided into molecular subgroups with different clinical outcomes and recurrence rates. This new method of classifying tumours allows scientists to predict recurrence more accurately than the current method of classifying the tumour.

An innovative research project is looking at milk as the vehicle to deliver cancer-fighting therapeutics to the brain. Findings in recent years show that it's possible to manipulate the body's genetic function to reduce the growth of tissues, including cancerous tumours. Scientists achieve that result by directing a type of gene regulator known as siRNAs to the targeted tissue. Genetic signalling carried by the siRNAs shuts down genetic function that enables new tissue growth. Humans absorb siRNAs through food. Milk stands out for its robust ability, once ingested, to help the genes accumulate naturally in the brain. These researchers are looking to hone milk-focused techniques for effective gene delivery. Specifically, the project will use milk-transported siRNA genes to shut down the growth function of the gene IDH1, whose mutations result in brain tumours.

In the past fortnight we have had three awareness days for different types of brain tumour. Last Tuesday (10th May) was Ependymoma Awareness Day, and this Tuesday saw awareness days for both DIPG and Neurofibromatosis. No other site has such variety and complexity and at Brain Tumour Research we are proud to, and will continue to, fund research into different tumour types.

On Ependymoma Awareness Day, we asked our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, Dr Karen Noble, to tell us a bit more about this tumour type and what Brain Tumour Research is doing to help find a cure.

Neurofibromatosis (NF) is a group of genetic conditions which cause tumours to grow along nerves. There are three types of Neurofibromatosis: Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) and Schwannomatosis. The most common brain tumours associated with NF2 are acoustic neuroma, schwannoma, ependymoma and meningioma. Like brain tumours themselves, there is no cure for NF2. However, the research we are funding at our Centre of Excellence at the University of Plymouth could help lead towards finding a cure for this condition.

To commemorate DIPG awareness day Dr Noble wrote another blog post about DIPG and what we’re doing to find a cure.

When it comes to acoustic neuromas someone with more than a little knowledge of this tumour type from a patient perspective is Lord Stuart Polak and at this week’s AGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Brain Tumours we were delighted that Lord Polak was elected to our list of APPGBT officers. We were further strengthened by the addition of Jane Hunt MP, both joining the existing team under the continuing chairmanship of Derek Thomas. Many of you reading this will have already given written or oral evidence to the current inquiry ‘Pathway to a Cure – breaking down the barriers.’ Thank you for that and we are very much looking forward to the session on Tuesday where we will welcome content and comment from industry.

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