World Cancer Day 2017 – Brain Tumour Research
The scientists at our four Centres of Excellence are working together to gain a greater understanding of brain tumours and to identify ways in which they can be treated effectively. Our funding strategy means that we’re investing in long-term research, building the ‘critical mass’ of expertise needed to accelerate the journey to find a cure, which in turn facilitates increased research investment from other sources.
There is a limited range of treatments currently available for brain tumours, despite advancements for many other types of cancer, due to the historic underfunding into this research field. Brain Tumour Research is a leading voice campaigning and fundraising to address this issue.
University of Portsmouth:
Our first UK Research Centre of Excellence was launched in 2011. Led by Prof Geoff Pilkington, this is now one of the largest dedicated teams of lab-based researchers working on this disease within the UK. The team is working on five complementary research programmes to investigate brain tumours in both adults and children, including primary and metastatic tumours. Their goal is to create novel and multi-targeted therapies for the treatment of brain cancer.
They have also developed a pioneering all-human model of the blood-brain barrier, allowing them to identify drugs that can enter into the brain in order to reach and attack brain tumours directly. Parallel studies are being carried out with chemists to modify the structure of some existing drugs or develop tools that will allow the drugs to enter the brain in order to kill the cancerous cells.
Prof Oliver Hanemann leads a group specialising in research on low-grade or benign brain tumours which are usually slow-growing but which ultimately can become malignant. Their aim is to identify and understand the mechanisms underlying the development of this type of tumour and to explore ways to halt their growth. His team has identified some key changes that occur within the cells to which drugs can be targeted in order to destroy them.
The main treatment for brain tumours involves surgery to remove them with associated radiotherapy. This is usually followed by a course of chemotherapy, although the library of effective drugs is very limited. A key innovation at the Plymouth Centre has been the development of a fast-track process for screening new drugs using human cell cultures. These drugs can then be tested in patients using innovative clinical trial designs with the potential for making drug therapies available to patients at the earliest possible stage. These will enhance or ultimately replace the current treatments which have limited effectiveness.
Queen Mary University of London:
Prof Silvia Marino and her team, in collaboration with University College London, are studying glioblastoma tumours, one of the most aggressive and deadly types of brain cancer. Specifically, they are investigating stem cells, which normally contribute to the maintenance and repair of organs. However, there are also stem cells which may form tumours, so killing them is crucial.
The team is trying to establish the difference between tumour-associated stem cells, which divide endlessly as the tumours grow, and normal stem cells within the body, which stop proliferating when they change into specialised cells within the body. If they can understand what causes the tumour stem cells to proliferate, the researchers can start generating more targeted drugs that are more effective
The surgical team at our fourth centre, directed by leading neurosurgeon Mr Kevin O’Neill, is developing and testing an innovative new surgical tool called the iKnife. This is designed to differentiate between tumour and normal brain cells so that the removal of brain tumour tissue is much more accurate.
The basic research team, led by Dr Nelofer Syed, is investigating various aspects of brain tumour biology and particularly how tumour cells derive their energy, in order to identify novel therapeutic strategies. Two clinical studies are currently being developed based on the results of current research. The identification of new and better drugs can then be combined with the surgery to provide a much more effective treatment for brain tumours and ultimately lead us towards our vision of developing a cure.