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Innovating to defeat brain tumours

We’re thrilled to be the first ever UK charity to partner with the US-based Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI), an organisation dubbed ‘Tinder for start-ups’. We’ll be co-funding a pioneering initiative coordinated by the CAI, called The Brain Race. This will ask researchers and inventors from across the world to submit innovative ideas aimed at defeating brain tumours.

The CAI has run initiatives before that encouraged start-ups in fields such as breast cancer and space technology. But The Brain Race is different.

This groundbreaking partnership invites anyone in the world to submit an idea which has the potential to improve quality of life for people with a brain tumour. This is instead of pre-selecting a limited number of proposals that the CAI believes could succeed commercially.

Sheri Sobrato Brisson, co-founder of Resonance Philanthropies, is also partnering with the CAI and is co-funding The Brain Race with us. Sheri was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 24 and is passionate about helping young people cope with the emotional burden of a difficult diagnosis and ongoing medical treatment. We caught up with her to discuss her background, The Brain Race, and why innovation is so important in the field of research into brain tumours.

Q. Tell us about your own brain tumour diagnosis

I was diagnosed with a choroid plexus carcinoma in 1987. Initially, I had a short prognosis because my disease had never been treated successfully before. I participated in clinical trials and have truly had a miraculous recovery.

But at the time, I was numb and had to just power through it. I had to leave my dream job to go home for treatment and be closer to my family. My boyfriend at the time tried his best to be there for me, but it was just too difficult for him and we ended up splitting up. The losses of my job and relationship were harder on me than the diagnosis itself. Working through the feelings took a long time.

Q. What’s your background?

My father is a real estate entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and he and my mom instilled in their kids the value of giving back. I began volunteering at the age of 14, and supported patients and families in hospitals and community settings for 20 years before starting my non-profit project: the Digging Deep Project.

I create free tools to help young people work through the emotional side of their illnesses. I started by co-authoring a book, Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges, which was distributed to paediatric hospitals across the US. Now I’ve co-created Shadow’s Edge, the first ever mobile game to build resilience in young people facing health challenges through self-expression.

Q. What excited you about The Brain Race?

I’m an entrepreneur by heart and am fascinated by innovative solutions to complex problems. I’ve always liked the idea of using my philanthropic resources to launch some type of prize.

My support, combined with the support of The Brain Tumour Charity, will attract expertise to compete for the opportunity to develop the most compelling solutions.

There’s so much potential in discoveries that have already been made but haven’t had the opportunity to come to market and benefit patients.

The Brain Race was the perfect fit – it tied together my love of innovation and entrepreneurship with my passion for improving the lives of brain tumour patients

Q. Why are innovation and pioneering approaches particularly important in research into brain tumours?

Many promising tools and treatments are left on the shelf, stuck in academic or government settings. As taxpayers and philanthropists, we invest in this research, yet even when it’s promising, the inventions aren’t being supported to the point where they can actually affect patients’ lives.

Both sides – the scientific research and bringing this research to market – need to work together to help patients. The CAI brings the pieces of innovation and business success together.

Q. What are your hopes for this initiative and the future of research into brain tumours?

My hope is for much improved outcomes for people affected by brain tumours, both medically and emotionally. A diagnosis affects the whole family, so ‘outcomes’ are broader than just the number of months or years life is extended.

I hope we’ll see innovations that will positively affect patients both medically and psychologically. My dream is that other patients will experience both the length and richness in life I’ve experienced beyond my diagnosis.

Q. What would you say to other people affected by brain tumours who want to make a difference?

We’ve been through a lot and are all uniquely positioned to help others who are going through their own journey with a brain tumour.

We all have different talents to give back, whether it’s by making a donation to medical research, providing unique insights into better social support for patients and families, or even writing a book or developing a product.

In as much as you wish to inspire innovation to help other people in a similar situation, I encourage you to take that chance in whatever way you feel comfortable.