Together we will find a cure Donate
Together we will find a cure Donate


Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

Brain tumour breakthrough – fat feeds growth

by Elise O'Kelly

Experts from Newcastle University have made a breakthrough in studying the growth of brain tumours.

Their discovery is that fat rather than sugar is a tumour’s preferred source of energy. This could open up a new avenue for developing effective cancer-fighting drugs.

Our Director of Research, Dr Kieran Breen, takes a look at the findings.

The biology of brain tumours is extremely complex and we know that they have a high energy requirement in order to divide and spread.

Some studies to date have suggested that glucose is the primary source of energy for tumour cells. This could explain why high fat and low carbohydrate-containing diets, such as the ketogenic diet, may influence tumour cell development by decreasing glucose levels. This will force the cells to use fats as a source of energy and this is less efficient.

The study referenced in this news story reports that certain brain tumours may rely on fat as a source of energy rather than glucose and that the use of drugs which decrease fat levels may be efficient in slowing down cancer cell growth. This suggests that the situation is much more complex and there is likely to be a balance between the energy sources.

However, it must be considered, as highlighted by the researcher, that these studies have been carried out in cells grown in the lab so much more research is required before we can understand any clinical implications. Furthermore, it highlights the complexity of brain tumours, of which there are over 125 different types, as described recently in the WHO classification of brain tumours.

It is highly unlikely that there will be a single therapy that will treat all brain tumours. I will report back again here when more detailed evidence has been published furthering our understanding how targeted therapies could be developed for the individual brain tumour types.

Brain tumour research is still woefully underfunded. Less than 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease. Despite breakthroughs such as this, the science is still starved of research funding and progress remains painfully slow. At this rate, it could take another 100 years to find the breakthrough that leads to a cure for brain tumours.

Please help us fund the fight. Together we will find a cure.