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‘Mini brains’ and ‘mini muscles’: a first-time characterisation of the communication between glioblastoma and the skeletal muscle

Fast facts

  • Official title: Characterising the tumour-muscle crosstalk to develop novel treatments for glioblastoma
  • Lead researcher: Dr. Claire Vinel, UK
  • Where: Queen Mary University of London 
  • When: April 2023 – October 2023
  • Research type: Animal models, Biomarkers, Drug discovery, Glioblastoma (GBM), Personalised Medicine, Stem cells, Treatment side effects
  • Award type: Future Leaders

Glioblastoma is a highly aggressive type of brain tumour with a poor prognosis. Research in glioblastoma has traditionally focused on the tumour itself and its local environment ignoring the potential involvement of the rest of the body. Loss of muscle mass and function, called sarcopenia, is commonly seen in many cancers and has been linked to poor prognosis. However, very little attention has been given to sarcopenia in glioblastoma patients. Patients with glioblastoma often present with loss of muscle, which is not influenced by the patients’ age. Muscle health could influence brain function and the tumour might induce muscle loss; this communication potentially occurs through molecules in the blood stream. 

What is it?

Dr Vinel will use cells isolated from glioblastoma tissue samples. She will generate mini brain and mini muscles in a dish, which will be made by brain and muscle cells taken from the same patients. The mini brains will have a tumour. Dr Vinel will stimulate the mini muscle inducing contraction (long, short, sustained, or intermittent) of the muscle. She will explore the relationship between specific contractions and the production of “anti or pro glioblastoma” molecules.  

Dr Vinel will put the molecules produced by mini muscles in contact with the mini brain containing a glioblastoma tumour, and then assess the effects on the cancer behaviour (growth, invasion). Moreover, she will test the effect of the tumour in the mini brain on the mini muscles, analysing the reaction of the mini muscles to the molecules produced by the tumour. 

Why is it important?

The results of Dr Vinel’s experiments in a dish will inform the design of future experiments in animal models. Dr Vinel’s work could lead to the development of new drugs. She will try to identify key anti-cancer or pro-cancer molecules as well as molecules causing the loss of tone and function in muscles. If Dr Vinel finds molecules with anti-tumour properties produced by the muscle during exercise, she could be able to develop a drug mimicking exercise effects to either improve or replace physical activity for less mobile glioblastoma patients. 

Who will it help?

This project has the potential to help patients with glioblastoma, their families, and healthcare professionals. Understanding the changes that occur in the muscles of glioblastoma patients could help predict severe outcomes and prepare people diagnosed. . 

Ultimately, Dr Vinel’s work aims to contribute to the development of new treatments for glioblastoma that improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

We’re on the brink of unlocking a whole new world of potential treatments for glioblastoma patients, and my work is at the forefront of this exciting field. By taking a holistic approach and considering the impact of muscle health on tumour growth, we could offer patients a chance at a better quality of life and new hope for a cure.

Dr. Vinel


  • Analysis of samples collected from preclinical models show that the development of the tumour within the brain is associated with the loss of muscle mass specifically, and does not affect other tissue mass. This confirms the preliminary data that was collected for this study.
  • These results also confirm that the preclinical models used for this work are suitable for studying the effects that glioblastoma development in the brain has on the rest of the body
  • Findings also show that there is a link between tumour development and the muscle condition/status

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

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Dr. Claire Vinel

Dr Claire Vinel is a researcher at Queen Mary University of London with expertise in muscle physiology and glioblastoma. She has a strong track record of publications in high impact journals and extensive experience in the establishment and characterisation of primary lines and pluripotent stem cells, as well as in the generation of 3D models. Dr Vinel has also developed a multidisciplinary research network that comprises leaders in brain tumours and skeletal muscle research.