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Funding for state-of-the-art research into new brain tumour treatments begins

The Charity is supporting innovative research at the University of Sheffield, many years on from funding its very first research project there.

Dr Ola Rominiyi in a white lab coat in a laboratory

This research will use pioneering technology to exploit DNA repair in brain tumour cells to explore novel treatments for glioblastoma.

It aims to find weaknesses in the ability of glioma cells to repair their DNA and survive chemo- and radiotherapy treatments which are designed to damage DNA and kill the tumour cells.

Why is this so important?

Gliomas are a particularly aggressive and difficult to treat group of brain tumours – with glioblastomas being the most dangerous.

More than 3,000 people receive a glioblastoma diagnosis in the UK each year. These brain tumours typically have a 12-15 months survival after diagnosis. There is an urgent need for new treatments as survival rates have improved very little over the last few decades.

The Research

The research is led by Dr Ola Rominiyi, a Speciality Registrar in Neurosurgery and Clinical Lecturer in Neurosurgery at the University of Sheffield.

It will investigate tens-of-thousands of individual cells taken from tumour samples and diseased surrounding tissue removed from patients during surgery.

This research is funded by The Brain Tumour Charity’s Future Leaders Award. Dr Rominiyi’s research will explore DNA repair mechanisms in the cells associated with a tumour. Supported by mentorship from Dr Spencer Collis. And collaboration with world-leading single-cell sequencing researchers in the US and Israel, They aim to explore why some cells from different locations within the same tumour can withstand chemo- and radiotherapy better than others.

Traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy are designed to damage the DNA in cells, causing them to die. If cells can repair damaged DNA then they can survive and multiply – making the tumour difficult to treat. These surviving cells could potentially be treated with drugs that switch off DNA repair processes.

Why do we need this research?

Researchers hope that developing a cell-by-cell understanding of DNA repair mechanisms will improve the success of treatment. And will extend the lives of those living with a glioblastoma. The research investigate cells within the tumour. And also cells that invaded nearby brain tissue that are impossible to fully remove during surgery. New ways to treat glioblastoma can then be designed to prevent DNA repair in each of the different routes tumour cells would use.

Coming full circle

Neil and Angela Dickson speak to Dr Ola Rominiyi about his project.

Neil and Angela Dickson are the founders of The Brain Tumour Charity.

The Charity was founded in 1997 following the death of their daughter from a rare brain tumour. They made the life-changing decision to establish the first dedicated brain tumour charity in the UK. They called it The Samantha Dickson Research Trust, which later became The Brain Tumour Charity in 2013.

The Samantha Dickson Research Trust funded much needed research into brain tumours. And one of the first studies it funded was at the University of Sheffield. So, for Neil and Angela, it feels like they have come full circle now that The Charity is funding new research in Sheffield.

Find out more about Samantha’s story here.

Neil Dickson MBE, Founder of The Brain Tumour Charity and Vice Chairmen of Trustees said:

“Angela and I were delighted that The Charity is able to support Dr Ola Rominiyi’s research at the University of Sheffield.

“It was about 20 years ago when we awarded one of the first grants made by The Charity to the University of Sheffield. So it really feels that we have come full circle.

“This research into glioblastoma was one of six projects awarded in our Future Leaders programme. And scored highly in our peer review process.

“We are now able to go back to our family, friends, and supporters in North Hampshire and Surrey to tell them the money they raised is already being put to good use and is making such a difference.

“We’d would also like to thank the McIntosh family who recently lost their father John to a glioblastoma. Their tireless work in raising money has meant we have been able to fund ground-breaking research much quicker than planned. We have a number of people diagnosed with high grade-glioma who are also raising money for The Samantha Dickson Fund. In particular Sophie and her husband Bruce Pemberton – their support shows a united effort really makes a difference in fighting this disease.”

Dr Ola Rominiyi, The Brain Tumour Charity Future Leader at the University of Sheffield said:

“Over 3,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a high-grade glioma every year. And our current treatments have barely improved survival in decades. We hope that our research will help to change this.

“Unfortunately, in high-grade gliomas, large differences in DNA repair within the same tumour present a major roadblock to improving patient survival. Our plan is to therefore map the different cells using a single cell-by-cell approach.

“We hope that by understanding the different cells within a tumour, as well as the cells which spread to nearby brain tissue, we can find ways to effectively switch off DNA repair in the cells.

“However, just like the Maps application on a phone, where you are re-routed when a road is blocked, and the effect of a drug targeting a single DNA repair process might be limited. This is due to some cells in the tumour using alternative DNA repair mechanisms therefore providing another route to survival for cancerous cells.

“This research will, for the first time, provide a unique and major step towards building new DNA repair inhibitor treatments tailored to the invasive cells left-behind after surgery in patients.

“This project harnesses Sheffield’s internationally respected expertise in drugs which switch off DNA repair processes. Some of which are already extending the lives of tens-of-thousands of patients with other types of cancer globally.”

Dr David Jenkinson, Chief Scientific Officer at The Brain Tumour Charity, which helped fund the project, said:

“Supporting the next generation of brain tumour researchers with our Future Leaders awards is an important step towards The Charity’s ambitious goals of doubling survival and halving the harm caused by brain tumours. We are delighted to be able to fund such pioneering research.

“This project takes an innovative approach to finding new treatments for glioblastoma. It does this by mapping the different DNA repair mechanisms in different cells within the same tumour. Ground-breaking research is essential if we are to find a cure for brain tumours. This is why, at The Brain Tumour Charity, we are committed to supporting exceptional researchers.

“Glioblastoma tumours are notoriously difficult to treat. And there have been no significant treatment breakthroughs since temozolomide was approved in 2007. There is an urgent need for new, kinder treatments to improve lives for those with this devastating diagnosis.

“We are very excited about this project and look forward to following and sharing its success in the future.”