The new investment includes an international collaboration of scientists investigating new ways to test treatments for the most common form of malignant brain tumour in children (medulloblastoma) and a study of cancerous cells which remain in the brain after surgery to remove a tumour.
One of the projects is a world first; the 3D printing of brain tumours to help researchers understand and develop drug treatments.
A team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh will use cutting-edge technology to print a mixture of cells commonly found in brain tumours, combining them to construct a single tumour-like mass.
The aim is to secure a more effective, easily-reproducible way to test drug treatments for primary malignant brain tumours such as glioblastoma, which kill around 5,000 people in the UK every year.
Dr Nicholas Leslie, a tumour biologist at Heriot-Watt University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering, is working on the brain tumour project with 3D printing expert Dr Will Shu of the university’s School of Engineering and Physical Science.
Dr Leslie said: “We have developed a novel 3D printing technique to print brain tumour cells for the first time, cells that continue to grow rapidly, more closely mimicking the growth of these aggressive tumours in real life.
“Our goal is that this should provide a new way of testing drugs to treat brain tumours, leading to new treatments and speeding up the process by which new drugs become available to patients.”
Along with the 3D brain tumour printing project, we’re announcing funding today for the following initiatives:
Exploring how networks are formed, Mr Michael Hart, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge
Mr Hart aims to explore how networks are formed to the remote areas of the brain responsible for complex cognitive functions such as problem solving. He hopes to define exactly how much of a low grade glioma can be removed while retaining as much brain function as possible. This research could have an immediate impact by decreasing the after-effects of surgery, including seizures.
Understanding left-over tumour cells, Mr Stuart Smith, The University of Nottingham
Mr Smith will use the 5ALA drink, also known as the pink drink, which is taken by patients ahead of surgery to make tumorous cells glow pink. He will analyse the residual cancer cells left in a patient’s brain after surgery and identify the precise mutations within them, in the hope of developing targeted treatments which could lead to fewer tumour recurrences.
Uncovering tumour transition, Dr Paul Brennan, The Cancer Research UK Centre, Edinburgh
Dr Brennan is looking at how and why some low grade gliomas change into high grade gliomas, with the aim of ensuring earlier detection of aggressive mutations. He hopes to define the cell-changing biomarkers – the indicators, such as genes, molecules or other biological substances found in blood or cells – which can be used to measure or diagnose a tumour.
Professor Louis Chesler, The Institute of Cancer Research, London
Professor Chesler is working with a team from Germany and the USA to study Group 3 medulloblastoma – the most common malignant brain tumour in children. The team will be analysing the genome in medulloblastoma tumour cells while also working on new ways to test drugs for this tumour type. If successful, the research could reveal for the first time how these tumours are wired and allow the delivery of new drugs to the clinic within five years.
Linking glioblastomas to DNA-protein parcels, Dr Steve Pollard, The University of Edinburgh
Dr Steve Pollard is working with scientists from Canada and Denmark to look at parcels within cells that contain both DNA and protein, to see how they could be linked to causing glioblastomas. Very little is currently understood about the different proteins within the parcels and which ones should be prioritised for drug development. The team hopes to identify existing drugs that could be used to stop them developing into cancer.