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Manipulating the tumour’s environment

Fast facts

  • Official title: High-dimensional analysis of microglial drug response in glioblastoma bioreactors
  • Lead researcher: Dr Gregor Hutter
  • Where: Department of Biomedicine, University of Basel, Switzerland
  • When: January 2019 – May 2021
  • Cost: £117,750 
  • Research type: Adult, Glioblastoma (High Grade), Academic
  • Grant round: Expanding theories

What is it?

The environment around a tumour has several different types of cells, including microglia. Microglia is a cell type that supports tumour growth and promotes its spread to other parts of the brain. Researchers have shown that it’s possible to manipulate and reprogramme microglia to have an anti-cancer function.

The aim of Professor Hutter’s research is to use a combination of drugs to reprogramme microglia to kill glioblastoma cells. The research team will use a device called a bioreactor to store and grow a tumour sample and observe the interactions between tumour cells and microglia. 

They’ll then use a combination of drugs to manipulate and reprogramme the microglia to be able to target the tumour cells. The researchers will use specialised laboratory techniques to evaluate if this method of targeting glioblastoma cells is successful.  

Why is it important?

Glioblastomas are the most common and aggressive type of high grade brain tumour in adults. The current standard of treatment involves surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Despite aggressive treatments, overall survival is about 15-17 months from diagnosis, making it vital to adopt new approaches to treat this tumour type.

Who will it help?

This research project aims to help people diagnosed with glioblastoma by improving our understanding of the role of the tumour’s environment. It will provide a foundation for the development of potential new treatments to encourage the healthy brain to attack the tumour.


  • The team were able to optimise their technology to investigate changes to immune cells (microglia and tumour associated macrophages) within tumours.
  • The results indicate that the centre of the tumour contains a higher number of immune cells and may have a greater response to immune targeted treatments that the periphery of the tumour. In particular, the team have seen a positive response to combination therapy with anti-CD-47 and anti-PD1 drugs.
  • The methods they have developed are not yet ready to be used as a predictive tool to test potential therapies in glioma samples but with further work to streamline the methods with more advanced computational resources and smaller bioreactors it could be in the future.

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.

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