Professor Denise Sheer and her lab getting involved in the 'Wear It Out' campaign for Brain Tumour Awareness Month in March 2015
Gliomas are categorised as either low or high grade: low grade gliomas are less aggressive and slower to grow than high grade gliomas. Our researchers are working hard to develop new treatments for low grade gliomas, as these tumours are often inoperable due to their location within the brain and may transform to become high grade.
Low grade gliomas can affect both adults and children and can be divided into many different types, including astrocytomas, ependymomas and oligodendrogliomas. Learn more about how tumours are graded.
Our previous research into low grade gliomas has focused on identifying the genetic make up of low grade gliomas, understanding how different genes contribute to tumour development and developing new ways of monitoring patients.
The landmark discovery of the gene BRAF and its role in the development of low grade astrocytomas signified a great step forwards in the battle against this tumour type. The study, led by Professor Peter Collins at the University of Cambridge, has since led to the development of new diagnostic tests for pilocytic astrocytoma. This work has also resulted in clinical trials to investigate whether drugs that have previously been used to treat skin cancer are effective in blocking the activity of the BRAF gene in pilocytic astrocytomas.
Professor Denise Sheer's research has also led to the discovery of a specific mutation to the BRAF gene which contributes to the growth of low grade astrocytomas. This discovery may lead to the development of new drugs to target this mutation.
A new MRI scanning technique which detects changes in low grade gliomas that may indicate that the tumour is becoming more aggressive has also been developed by Dr Jeremy Rees at the University College London Institute of Neurology. This landmark discovery will enable doctors to predict the transformation of a tumour at an earlier stage and change the patient's treatment accordingly.
Professor Sheer and her team are studying low grade glioma tissue to find genetic characteristics which distinguish a tumour from healthy cells. This will allow drugs to be developed that target the tumour cells alone, reducing the damaging side effects of treatment. This project is focusing on molecules called microRNAs, which have a role in controlling which genes are switched on and off.
Professor Collins and his team have been investigating the role of the fusion gene KIAA1549:BRAF, which is commonly found in pilocytic astrocytoma but not seen in healthy tissue. The study will use brain stem cells to establish the role of the fusion gene in the growth and development of this tumour type.
Mutations to the enzyme IDH1, which has a role in the energy generating process within cells, has been linked to slow growing low grade gliomas. Researchers at UCL, led by Professor Sebastian Brandner, will use mouse models to study precisely how mutations to IDH1 influence the growth and development of tumours.
Dr Susan Picton at the University of Leeds is heading up a clinical trial jointly funded with Cancer Research UK to determine the potential value of combining two complementary drugs in treating young people with low grade gliomas.