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Wednesday, 02 May 2018

£18 million fund aims to encourage new research and treatment of brain tumours

Written by Thomas Hornall and Henry Clare

British scientists have been equipped with a new warchest to fight one of cancer's most complex and lethal killers.

An £18 million fund is now available to "ambitious" groups studying brain tumours in a bid to transform Britain into a world-leading research country, Cancer Research UK said on Tuesday.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at the charity, said: "We urgently need new insights and treatments to tackle brain tumours to improve survival.

"We want to attract and inspire the research community to accelerate progress for a disease that has seen few treatment options developed for patients and consequently little change in survival."

Around 11,500 people develop a brain tumour in the UK annually, according to Cancer Research UK.

It is the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40, with just one in five adults surviving more than five years after diagnosis, the Brain Tumour Charity said.

Professor Richard Gilbertson, a world authority on children's brain tumours at the University of Cambridge, said several factors made the disease "very difficult to treat" including its rarity, vast complexity, and resistance to treatments.

Speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine in central London, he said: "Part of the issue is geographic. We are not able to take half the brain out in the way that you can take out half of the colon.

"The brain is a specialist organ and the body knows that so it needs to protect the brain to protect the functions that it does: such as breathing, regulation of heart rate and your thought processes."

Prof Gilbertson added the brain was walled off from the rest of blood circulation through the "blood-brain barrier" which stops certain substances entering the brain, including chemotherapy drugs.

The relatively small number of patients, many of whom are extremely ill, often hampers efforts to hold rigorous clinical trials, he added.

On Tuesday, Cancer Research UK in partnership with the Brain Tumour Charity announced an £18 million fund as part of its Brain Tumour Awards.

It forms part of a £25 million spend on brain tumour research spread out over five years, with teams able to apply for grants of up to £10 million.

UK researchers should lead the operations supported by others from around the world, Dr Foulkes said, adding: "We're asking people to be ambitious (in their pitches)".

Dr Adrienne Boire, a specialist neuro-oncologist practising in New York, said international cooperation was essential for improving comprehension of brain tumours.

She said: "These tumours don't respect international boundaries, the biology is the same across countries and the problems remain equally complex in all environments.

"We need as many hands on deck as we can possibly get.

"No one research group could really hope to understand it and for this reason we're all approaching the problem from different directions.

"We can all provide a different insight into the problem."

The funding is also aimed at developing specialist UK neuro-oncologists, who would focus exclusively on treating brain tumours.

Prof Gilbertson added: "One reality in the UK in particular is that we do not have a history of developing neuro-oncologists.

"That is something that we should consider changing so that we can have these specialists in the UK."


A mother-of-three has told how a drug discovered and developed by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists has helped stabilise her brain tumour.

Sue Humphreys (pictured) was treated for a tumour 11 years ago and it returned around six years later, but she believes a drug called Temozolomide has helped stabilise her.

She first went to see a neuro-anaesthetist in 2007 after a series of migraines, and an MRI scan revealed an astrocytoma - the most common type of primary brain tumour, according to the Brain Tumour Charity.

Her neuro-surgeon was able to remove the whole of the lump, allowing Mrs Humphreys to have six healthy years, with regular scans being undertaken to monitor her.

The 46-year-old, who lives with her husband, children and dog Pickles in Walsall, West Midlands, said: "I had to have regular scans but we had six really good years.

"Then in April 2013, things started to change. We were on holiday in the Canaries when I had a grand mal seizure in my sleep which was a bolt out of the blue.

"Thankfully I have no memory of it but it was very frightening for my husband.

"I started taking anti-seizure medication which worked for a while but in November 2013, I had an absence seizure.

"I was talking to my mum on the phone and my husband said I just stopped talking and the phone fell out of my hand."

The seizures became more regular, and it was found that the tumour had returned, Cancer Research UK has said.

Despite her surgeon taking out as much of it as he could, Mrs Humphreys was forced to start chemotherapy.

She started taking Temozolomide alongside antibiotics, anti-seizure medication and drugs to stop her feeling sick.

After 18 cycles of treatment, Mrs Humphreys says she is now taking a break as her most recent scan results have been stable.

She said: "The treatment was tiring, but my family coped really well.

"Despite my diagnosis, I'm trying to keep things as normal as possible. I certainly don't go around thinking I need to live tomorrow like it's my last.

"I just get up and deal with whatever that day brings. At the moment, it's watch and wait."

She added: "The surgery does change you - it's just the knowledge that someone has been inside your brain.

"I've been one of the lucky ones, I had six really good years but the brain is a complex organ and mine's obviously decided it's had enough of being good."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Cancer Research UK / PA Wire.