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

Brain tumour cells heading to International Space Station

Cancer cells will be heading to space as part of a scientific study to understand more about a childhood brain tumour which killed the daughter of US astronaut Neil Armstrong in the 1960s.

Researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research are sending samples of diffuse midline glioma to the International Space Station (ISS) to see how it spreads in microgravity. The scientists said their study – called D(MG)2 – could pave the way to understanding more about the disease.

Professor Chris Jones, leader of the D(MG)2 study and professor of Childhood Cancer Biology, said: “Experiments such as D(MG)2 aboard the International Space Station will improve our understanding of how cancer cells interact with each other within three-dimensional structures, and hopefully lead to new ideas for disrupting tumour growth that we can take forward back in the lab.”

Researchers believe that the microgravity conditions will allow their 3D cultures to grow to much larger sizes than on Earth, allowing much larger extensive models in which to study how cancer cells interact. 

The study has received £1.2 million from the Government. The launch is expected to take place in 2025, and experiments will be conducted by astronauts on board, with samples expected to be returned to Earth about six months later.

Dr Karen Noble, our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, said: “Diffuse midline glioma is an extremely aggressive and incurable type of brain tumour, most commonly diagnosed in children. Expanding our knowledge of these tumours and improving outcomes for patients is crucial if we are to make progress and bring much-needed hope to families affected.” 

During Brain Tumour Awareness Month, Brain Tumour Research announced its fourth Centre of Excellence at The Institute of Cancer Research where Prof Jones will lead a team with ambitious plans to identify new treatments for paediatric-type diffuse high-grade gliomas (PDHGG), including diffuse midline glioma.

Dr Noble added: “Although not funded by Brain Tumour Research, the D(MG)2 study demonstrates the interesting and innovative approach Prof Jones’s team will take in driving forward research to find a cure for this devastating disease.”

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