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Launching The Everest Centre for research into childhood brain tumours

A groundbreaking international centre for research into childhood brain tumours will be launched today (June 27) in London

Funded by an unprecedented £5m charity investment pledge, The Everest Centre for Research into Paediatric Low Grade Brain Tumours will bring together experts in the field from Germany and the UK.

It aims to improve the understanding and treatment of low grade (non-cancerous) paediatric brain tumours, which often cause severe long-term health problems and can be fatal in some cases.

The centre is being financed by The Brain Tumour Charity with money raised by the family and friends of nine-year-old Toby Ritchie, who was diagnosed with a low grade brain tumour at the age of five.

Toby underwent surgery and a gruelling course of chemotherapy but the position of the tumour on his brain stem means it cannot be fully removed.

The challenge

In March 2015, Toby’s father Rob spearheaded a unique challenge in which 14 skiers ascended slopes equivalent to the height of Everest over four days in the Alps.

The feat raised £3m for The Brain Tumour Charity, allowing the charity to begin planning its largest ever single investment in research into brain tumours.

After inviting scientists and clinicians around the world to submit proposals relating to low grade childhood brain tumours, the charity embarked on a rigorous selection process that led to the creation of The Everest Centre.

The centre will be led from Heidelberg, with teams in London at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and The Blizard Institute at Queen Mary University of London.

Mr Ritchie and his wife Tanya, from Hampshire, will be among those attending the launch of the centre today at The Blizard Institute in Whitechapel, London.

Mr Ritchie said, “We are thrilled that the money raised through Everest in the Alps is being used to establish The Everest Centre.

“This pioneering research will allow scientists to accelerate progress towards finding more effective treatments for the disease and could be revolutionary in improving the lives of children living with low grade tumours.

Our lives have been turned upside down by Toby’s diagnosis. Not only has day-to-day life changed as we deal with his evolving and debilitating condition, but we have the fear of a relapse constantly in the background.”

Bold aims

Around 500 children and young people are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year in the UK. Of those, approximately half have a low grade tumour.

The Everest Centre teams in London and Heidelberg have several key aims:

  • to identify factors that slow the growth of low grade paediatric brain tumours, in the hope that these might be harnessed to develop more effective treatments
  • to create more realistic laboratory models of low grade paediatric brain tumours, in order to identify and test new treatments
  • to determine the origin of different low grade tumour types within the brain through the study of tissue samples
  • to investigate whether targeted therapies could be used effectively against paediatric low grade brain tumours with specific genetic mutations, building on promising results for this type of therapy in adult melanomas
  • to accelerate the launch of an international clinical trial offering targeted treatments for children with low grade gliomas.

Dr Darren Hargrave, consultant in paediatric neuro-oncology at GOSH, will co-lead with Dr Olaf Witt (Heidelberg) the translation of novel targeted therapies from the laboratory into clinical trials for The Everest Centre.

Dr Hargrave said, “Low grade gliomas are the most common paediatric brain tumour.

“Children diagnosed with a low grade glioma can go through multiple rounds of treatment – including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – accounting for many years out of their young lives. That often has profound long-term health effects.

“We want to find new treatments, tailored to individual children, that cause less harm to their quality of life.

“I believe this very significant investment by The Brain Tumour Charity is highly likely to deliver a step change in the way that we treat these patients.

“I am convinced that as a direct result of our work at The Everest Centre, we will end up with new and less damaging treatments for children diagnosed with low grade glioma.”

World-renowned leadership

Dr David Jones (pictured), who will lead The Everest Centre from the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) and the Hopp Children’s Cancer Centre (KiTZ) at the NCT (National Centre for Tumour Diseases) in Heidelberg, said, “Whilst most young patients will – thankfully – survive a low grade brain tumour, the price of that survival in health terms is often very high.

“These tumours tend to recur more than once over many years, leaving children with the chronic effects of both the disease and the treatment.

“The launch of The Everest Centre is a tremendously welcome landmark for research into an area that has been previously underfunded.

“For the first time in Europe, this group of diseases will be subject to a large, co-ordinated international programme of cutting-edge scientific and clinical investigation.

“As a British scientist working in Europe, I am very pleased that The Brain Tumour Charity is committed to funding the highest possible quality of research, including supporting collaborations between leading UK groups and international partners.”

Professor Denise Sheer, Professor of Human Genetics at the Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London, will investigate the factors that cause low grade paediatric brain tumours to grow more slowly than their high grade (cancerous) counterparts.

Professor Sheer said, “The new Everest Centre will bring the pioneering cell and molecular approaches of Dr David Jones and colleagues in Heidelberg together with the expertise of researchers and clinicians in the UK.

“This will place us in a tremendously strong position to improve our understanding of the unique behaviour of children’s low grade brain tumours and to develop more effective types of treatment.”