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Laying the foundations for more effective brain tumour treatments

David Jenkinson, Chief Scientific Officer at The Brain Tumour Charity, discusses laying foundations for more effective brain tumour treatments.

We have heard a lot in the news throughout 2016 about the infrastructure crisis in the UK.We aren’t building enough houses to make ownership affordable for people trying to get onto the “ladder”; there are insufficient school places to accommodate our ever growing population and the NHS seems to be suffering an almost permanent “winter crisis”.

What is true for the country as a whole is equally true for the brain tumour research community.

In this case, we aren’t talking so much about bricks and mortar – although dedicated institutes would certainly help to create a vibrant research environment – but more about the research infrastructure that aids internationally important discoveries. Importantly, this infrastructure is what underpins a successful grant application. By building it, the brain tumour community can apply for money on a level playing field with researchers from other tumour types.

In 2015, The Brain Tumour Charity recognised this deficit in our Research Strategy: A Cure Can’t Wait. We said that we wanted to accelerate research by providing centralised access to tissue samples, allowing researchers to understand the causes of brain tumours, identify new targets to help treat them and understand who is going to benefit from which therapies.

2016 saw some positive steps towards building this sustainable infrastructure for brain tumours. In May, CRUK announced that they had approved an Accelerator Award for Edinburgh and UCL to work together to derive cell lines from patient samples. These lines will be characterised so we know their genetic and epigenetic makeup, helping us understand what makes them a cancer. These will be the cell lines that the community will use for the next 20 years.

Then, in the latter part of the year, both the NCRI Brain Tumour Clinical Studies Group and the UK Government’s Task and Finish Group on Brain Tumour Research recognised that the lack of good quality tissue samples and associated clinical data is an ongoing need.

With this level of agreement throughout the community, we have pressed ahead in implementing our strategy. In December we convened a workshop to discuss how to proceed and establish an adult brain tumour biobank.

With representatives from interested organisations, experienced biobankers, other charities and patients, we were able to agree a consensus plan to build on for implementation in 2017.

With all of these initiatives starting to have an impact, the materials available for brain tumour researchers will soon equal those available to researchers in other tumour types, helping to build the quality of the proposals that can be submitted to us and other researcher funders.

We hope that by investing in the core infrastructure – the ‘schools and hospitals’ of brain tumour research – we will be able to encourage others to help answer the important questions that have been left unasked for too long in this cancer of unmet need.