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Saving lives with a new scanning technique

Fast facts

  • Official title: Improving the scans of children with brain cancer through identifying biomarkers of survival in brain tumour tissue
  • Lead researcher: Professor Andrew Peet
  • Where: University of Birmingham
  • When: March 2014 – October 2021
  • Cost: £97,274. Co-funded with Action Medical Research
  • Research type: Paediatric, Glioma (Low Grade), Academic and Clinical, Translational

Professor Andrew Peet and colleagues at the University of Birmingham are using a new imaging technique to detect chemical markers of survival in childhood brain tumours. This information would be used to identify the most aggressive tumours and help decide the best treatment option for each child.

What is it?

The research aims to investigate the biochemical makeup of brain tumours in children. In the future, the levels of ‘biomarkers’ will tell doctors how a tumour is likely to develop, and what treatments are likely to be most successful.
Professor Peet’s group is exploring two new functional imaging techniques in their search for biomarkers. Functional imaging allows researchers to better understand the biochemical information revealed by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
The first new technique is called high-resolution magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, or HR-MAS NMR spectroscopy for short. It allows researchers to study tumour biopsies (small samples taken from the brain tumour) in greater detail than ever before.
The second type of imaging, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), can be combined with a conventional MRI scan to examine tumours in the brain. It is a non-invasive scan. This is important because the technology could be developed to study a tumour while it’s still in the child’s brain, without operating to remove a biopsy.
It’s hoped that the techniques pioneered in this study will allow researchers to:
1. identify biomarkers of survival in small tumour biopsies using HR-MAS
2. use MRS to measure these biomarkers inside the tumour itself, with no need to surgically remove a tumour biopsy.

Why is it important?

Research on biomarkers is important to provide some of the additional information doctors need to be able to personalise treatment.
Sadly, brain tumours carry the lowest chance of survival out of all childhood cancers. Survivors are likely to suffer complications that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Urgent efforts are needed to find out more about childhood brain tumours and ensure that everyone affected receives the right treatment, in the least invasive way.

Who will it help?

This research will provide more information to help children with brain tumours. Increasing the understanding of functional imaging could have a major impact on the way children are treated – allowing faster, more effective treatment and ultimately improved survival and quality of life.
Children will also benefit from the availability of non-invasive scanning methods, which help to reduce discomfort and disruption to their lives.

Whilst the biomarkers could be used in clinical practice straight away we also hope that they will lead to new treatments in the future.

Professor Andrew Peet



Researchers collected high quality data on 114 children’s brain tumours. 

  • The team have identified metabolites, glutamine and lipids, that are important predictors of survival in childhood brain tumours.
  • The metabolites can be detected in vivo using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, a widely available technique.
  • Measurement of tumour lipid levels, a predictor of poorer outcomes, is already being used clinically to benefit patients. The team are continuing to work with the International MRS Consensus Group to make testing of glutamine levels routine.

If you have any questions about this, or our other research projects, please contact us on research@thebraintumourcharity.org

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Research is the only way we will discover kinder, more effective treatments and, ultimately, stamp out brain tumours – for good! However, brain tumours are complex and research in to them takes a great deal of time and money.

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