BRAIN UK at the University of Southampton is the world’s first national virtual brain tissue bank, a unique and hugely important resource for researchers working across the UK, funded by Brain Tumour Research.
BRAIN UK has created and manages a game-changing database that catalogues over 120,000 tumour tissue samples held across the network of NHS and Academic Pathology Centres in the UK. The facility acts as a “matchmaker,” linking suitable tumour samples to researchers investigating a range of neurological diseases, including brain tumours.
These tissue samples offer almost complete coverage of the UK population and as such is a globally-unique population-wide resource.
How do researchers access brain tissue samples?
Researchers can fill in an application form which is reviewed by the team at BRAIN UK who then search their extensive database to provide a suitable match for the tissue type that is being requested. To date, over 3,200 tissue samples have been released for research projects.
Does this help research into rare brain tumours?
With over 120 types of brain tumour currently identified, finding stored tissue samples that match the tumour type that a researcher wants to study can be a huge challenge. This is particularly true of rarer brain tumours.
Thankfully, the NHS provides a unique resource through their network of hospitals and academic centres, some of which have brain tumour samples that are over 40 years old. For a rare tumour type, this historical data can provide an invaluable resource that enables larger numbers of cases to be compared.
BRAIN UK also offers a “fast track” ethics approval service, enabling research to begin more quickly than would otherwise be possible, saving both time and resources for the research teams.
BRAIN UK is co-ordinated from the University of Southampton. Initially started in 2009 as a collaboration between James Nicoll (University of Southampton) and David Hilton (Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust), the initiative was funded by the Medical Research Council to access post-mortem cases. Thanks to the high level of co-operation of Neuropathologists throughout the UK, this part of the virtual brain tissue bank now includes over 60,000 cases from a wide range of neurological disorders.
Following on from this success, in April 2014, in collaboration with Kathreena Kurian (University of Bristol), the project was extended to include details of tissue samples taken during operations on living patients through biopsies and tumour resections. This initiative was led by our Member Charity, brainstrust, and supported by another Member Charity, Charlie’s Challenge and our Fundraising Group, Sophie’s Wish. The British Neuropathological Society, British Neuro-oncology Society, Brain Tumour Network, Medical Research Council and National Cancer Research Institute Brain Tumour Clinical Studies Group also provided advice and support for the project.
BRAIN UK is also funded and supported by the Medical Research Council, and working together, we are building on the invaluable work begun by other charities and their dedicated supporters. Indeed, with sufficient funding and development, BRAIN UK can expand their services to support other neurological conditions such as stroke and schizophrenia for example. By enabling wider neurological research and sharing knowledge across the disciplines, we are likely to discover a cure for brain tumours more quickly, and in turn help to find cures for other neurological diseases.