Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys share your experiences and help create change

Mapping glioblastoma cells 

Fast facts

  • Official title: Mapping the spatio-temporal heterogeneity of glioblastoma invasion
  • Lead researcher: Professor Simona Parinello 
  • Where: University College London
  • When: September 2019 – February 2025
  • Cost: £1,496,690 (supported by The Oli Hilsdon Foundation)
  • Research type: Academic, Lab-based, Glioblastoma, Adult
  • Grant round: Quest for Cures

What is it?

Glioblastomas are diffuse in nature, meaning the tumour cells can spread through healthy parts of the brain. This is through a process called invasion, and makes it difficult to completely remove the tumour during surgery. Due to this, recurrence is a risk with glioblastomas as the tumour cells left behind can grow into a new tumour.

Professor Parrinello, and her colleagues at Imperial College London, aim to understand how glioblastomas spread into the brain and how they use small molecules as messengers to communicate with surrounding cells. It is likely that glioblastoma use different molecules to communicate with different types of cells, which makes identifying the various molecules difficult.

The multi-disciplinary research team will investigate this communication by combining both biological and mathematical principles and using two new techniques called spatial transcriptomics and intravital photoacoustic imaging (PAI).

Spatial transcriptomics is a technique that allows researchers to characterise different cells while preserving information about the cells’ original location.

Characterisation of the cells means that we will know what changes are present in cells at each location. If the changes vary in different areas of the tumour it gives us insight into how to develop more specific treatments.

PAI is an advanced imaging technique that uses light and sound to create high resolution images. The research team will use PAI to create images of the brain that will help them visualise the invasion of glioblastoma cells deep inside the brain.

These two techniques will allow the researchers to map the invasion process and identify key molecules that help the tumour cells spread. This understanding will help researchers develop more effective therapies that will help block tumour cells from spreading and prevent recurrence.

Why it is important?

Currently, not much is known about how a glioblastoma invades the surrounding brain because:

  • tumour cells that spread deep into the brain cannot be studied easily
  • there are considerable differences within a single tumour and between each person
  • the brain is complex and contains many different types of cells in different regions of the brain.

These obstacles are some of the reasons that, even with the current gold standard of care, a glioblastoma diagnosis comes with a poor prognosis and, even after treatment, tumour recurrence is very likely.

This research project aims to address all these obstacles and help us find drug targets to prevent tumour recurrence. Giving people with a glioblastoma much-needed hope for a future where brain tumours are defeated.

Who it will help?

The researchers on this project have a broad range of interests and are coming together to fill a significant gap in our knowledge, namely ‘why do glioblastomas keep coming back?’

This work has the potential to benefit everyone who has had treatment for a glioblastoma and is living with the worry that it will return.



We’re looking forward to seeing the achievements of this group when the project starts.


  • The research team will use spatial transcriptomics to help them describe the cells involved in the invasion process.
  • The team will also identify key molecules that are used by glioblastoma cells to communicate with cells from different parts of the brain.
  • The team will then determine if they can block the invasion process using drugs.

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

Research is just one other way your regular gift can make a difference

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.

Across the UK, over 100,000 families are facing the overwhelming diagnosis of a brain tumour and it is only through the generosity of people like you can we continue to help them.

But, by setting up a regular gift – as little as £2 per month – you can ensure that families no longer face this destructive disease.

Donate today

Professor Simona Parrinello is a professor of neuro-oncology at University College London in the department of Cancer Biology. 

Watch this video to learn more about Professor Parinello’s research.