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National brain tumour research funding needs to increase to £30-35 million a year

Meningioma patients could be spared risky surgery

Researchers at our Centre of Excellence at the University of Plymouth are making fantastic progress in their hunt for a reliable, non-invasive blood test to help diagnose and classify meningiomas.

The work of the team led by Professor Oliver Hanemann, has just been published in the Journal of Neuro-Oncology. The hope is that, in the future, patients with this tumour type could be spared invasive surgery and the risks that it entails.

Prof Hanemann and his team have been looking into whether chemicals released from meningioma tumours are present in the blood, and if so, is there scope to develop a blood test to help support the diagnosis and classification process without the need for invasive biopsies. This would be particularly useful for non-invasive monitoring following initial surgical removal of tumours. 

A meningioma is a tumour that starts in the meninges of the brain. There are different types and, as such, they are given different grades depending on their behaviour and physiology, ranging from grade 1 which are slow-growing and do not usually return after surgery and treatment to grade 3, which are high-grade and the most likely to recur.

Currently, there is a World Health Organisation (WHO) classification system that relies on the information provided from surgical biopsy to grade the tumour. This information provides the oncology team with vital information that helps inform the treatment plan, as different grades require different treatment approaches. Most meningiomas can be managed by surgery, but secondary drug treatment may be needed in cases of recurrent or high-grade tumours. 

In this paper, they looked at two chemicals known as miR-497 and miR-219 and discovered that tumour cells release them in different quantities compared to normal cells. Meningiomas released less miR-497, but more miR-219. In fact, as the meningioma grades increased, the less miR-497 was released. They went further to show that these different concentrations could be accurately measured in a serum blood test and can be linked to the grade of the tumour. In particular, when they combined the information from both miR concentrations, the more reliable the test became. Serum is the part of the blood with no cells in it and is becoming increasingly popular for disease diagnosis. 

The team is now looking to build on this breakthrough by analysing blood from patients who have had their tumour removed to monitor progression. In the future this could mean that meningioma patients may be offered regular blood tests to monitor the progression of their condition and inform treatment decisions, rather than potentially risky and invasive surgical biopsies.

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