Research Centres of Excellence
We are striving to build a network of seven dedicated research centres
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. In turn, this facilitates increased research investment from other sources.
It is essential that we fund this long-term research into this devastating disease. Despite advancements for many other types of cancer, treatment options for brain tumours is still very limited, largely due to the historic underfunding for research into neuro-oncology.
We have partnered with world-leading experts to establish game-changing partnerships at key universities in the UK when establishing our Centres.
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 existing drugs or develop new tools that will allow the drugs to enter the brain in order to kill the cancerous cells.
University of PlymouthProf Oliver Hanemann leads a group specialising in research on low-grade or benign brain tumours. These tumours are usually slow-growing but 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 list of effective drugs is very small. 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 even replace the current treatments.
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 working to kill them is crucial.
The team is aiming 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 dividing when they naturally change into specialised cells within the body. If they can understand what causes the tumour stem cells to grow rapidly, the researchers can start generating targeted drugs that are more effective.
Imperial CollegeOur partnership with Imperial College encompasses two sites – neurosurgery at Charing Cross Hospital and a research facility based at Hammersmith Hospital. The surgical team at Charing Cross, led 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 instantly during surgery, so that the removal of brain tumour tissue is much more accurate.
The research team, led by Dr Nelofer Syed, is investigating various aspects of brain tumour biology. In particular, they are studying how tumour cells derive their energy in order to identify new therapeutic strategies.
Two clinical studies are currently being developed based on the results of their 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.
Looking to the future...
The collaboration lead by us with our four Centres will create a network of successful brain tumour research centres throughout the UK. With secure long-term funding covering the key salaried positions within these centres, the researchers will be freed from the limitations and frustrations of applying for one specific project grant after another and instead will be able to pursue the sustainable and continuous research so desperately needed by the scientists and clinicians working in this underfunded field.