New Ideas Awards 2017

We're thrilled to announce that we've been able to award over £700,000 to eight exciting new global research initiatives in Canada, Australia and the UK. The goal of this award is to explore novel concepts that may eventually lead to significant improvements in clinical outcome.

The New Ideas awards are designed to allow initial exploration of novel ideas with the potential to open truly new avenues of investigation and to promote innovative approaches that could fundamentally change our understanding, diagnosis and/or management of brain tumours.

Amplifying drug delivery across the blood brain barrier using injectable gels

Dr Colin Watts, University of Cambridge

Dr Colin Watts and his team at the University of Cambridge are testing drug-containing gels as a new delivery method for the treatment of high grade brain tumours.

They will begin by determining the most effective chemotherapy and radiotherapy drug combinations to target genetically different cells within glioblastoma tumours. The team will then test these combinations by loading them in to the gel and injecting them into models of surgical cavities.

This project plays an important role in determining whether hydrogel drug delivery is a feasible treatment option to avoid the difficulty of getting drugs across the blood brain barrier.

Studying the interaction between genetically different cells in glioblastoma tumour

Dr Paulo Ribeiro, Queen Mary University London

One of the major challenges in treating glioblastoma tumours is that they are made up of many different cell types, each with different genetic mutations – a phenomenon also known as tumour heterogeneity.

Dr Ribeiro and his team aim to develop a genetic tool called OncoChrome to study tumour heterogeneity in fruit flies. This tool will be used to tag genes with a fluorescent marker, allowing the team to track cells with the fluorescent genes to look at how tumour heterogeneity influences tumour progression. They will then see how this knowledge can then be used as a target to develop better treatments for glioblastoma patients.

'Shining light' on DNA mutations in childhood brain tumours to reveal new therapy targets

Dr Ruman Rahman, University of Nottingham

Identifying unique alterations in the genetic make-up of ependymoma is beginning to provide clues for new targeted treatments. One such key alteration is a mutation called C11orf95-RELA, which is formed as two genes fuses together.

Dr Rahman at The University of Nottingham will use a powerful gene editing tool to allow his team to control the genetic pathways involved in the fusion of C11orf95-RELA. Ground-breaking technology known as dCas9 CRISPR LITE can be used in the laboratory to switch genes on or off by shining a blue light on them. This technique will be applied to ependymoma cells to enable the scientists to understand how specific genes involved with the fusion are activated and whether these genes can be targeted by drugs.

This will be the first application of light-induced gene manipulation of a known cancer mutation in the field of neuro-oncology research.

Changing the environment around glioblastoma to improve immunotherapy treatments

Dr Roberta Mazzieri, University of Queensland

Immunotherapy treatments harness the body's natural defence system and use it to recognise and destroy tumour cells. However, despite the progress being made in the use of immunotherapy, glioblastoma remains resistant to it.

Therefore Dr Mazzieri and her team will be investigating two new pioneering ways that they can overcome this by looking at techniques to reverse glioblastoma's suppression of the immune system. Firstly they will genetically engineer white blood cells to carry a powerful immune stimulatory molecule to the tumour site. They will also be enhancing the use of dendritic cells to recognise and destroy tumour cells.

By undertaking this research, Dr Mazzieri's work could identify potential new treatments for GBM patients that could substantially prolong quality of life and improve survival rates.

Developing drugs against a tumour causing protein in glioblastoma

Dr Arezu Jahani-Asl, McGill University

Dr Jahani-Asl and her team are the first to show that a protein called OSMR drives the growth of glioblastoma tumours.

Therefore, in this research project, the team aims to design and create two different types of drugs to target and inhibit OSMR activity, opening up a new potential therapeutic option that has not yet been explored.

They will also be looking at how OSMR interacts with another tumour causing protein called EGFRvIII, so that this interaction can be disrupted to halt tumour growth.

Harnessing the power of tumour enzymes to activate drugs

Dr Jason Gill, Durham University

Getting chemotherapy drugs to brain tumours is extremely difficult because of the blood brain barrier. This research led by Dr Gill aims to overcome this challenge by developing a new chemotherapy drug that can be directly injected into the cavity left after surgery using a chemical known as a thermogel.

This project is particularly novel in that the drug is being specifically designed so that it is activated by enzymes normally released by glioblastoma tumours, called proteases.

By combining the drug with an appropriate drug-delivery technology, this research project could present as a viable new approach for the treatment of brain tumours, potentially overcoming the possibility of tumour re-growth.

Delivering gene-editing technology to tumour cells across the blood brain barrier

Dr Khuloud Al-Jamal, King's College London

CRISPR/Cas9 is a gene-editing tool that has been hailed as a revolution in genetic engineering. This powerful technology can be used to seek out specific pieces of tumour-causing DNA and cut them to cause tumour cell death. However, one of the major challenges in delivering this tool is overcoming the blood brain barrier (BBB).

To overcome the hurdle of getting CRISPR/Cas9 in to the brain, Dr Al-Jamal and her team aim to test the delivery of CRISPR/Cas9 technology using small needle-shaped structures called 'nanotubes'. If successful, this drug-delivery technique could prove a new treatment option for brain tumour patients.

Identifying molecular compounds for drug delivery to target glioblastoma tumour cells

Dr James Dixon, University of Nottingham

Research has shown that glioblastoma tumours are made up of a number of different cell types with different genetic mutations meaning that some cells respond to treatments whereas other are able to avoid them.

Dr Dixon and his team at the University of Nottingham have developed a new drug delivery method based on small molecular compounds, called peptides, that target unique sugars found on the surface of tumour cells. The team will identify different peptides that target particular cell types within the tumour so that in the future selective drugs can be attached to the peptide.

This would allow the most appropriate drug to be delivered to the cell type it will have the greatest effect on and could be revolutionary in targeting the whole tumour.