Tumour-targeting drugs that spare healthy brain cells: the quest for a breakthrough

Understanding microRNA genetic switches that control tumour growth may reveal new drug targets for low grade glioma in children.

Professor Denise Sheer and her team at Queen Mary University, London, hope to develop new drugs which target brain tumour cells without damaging surrounding tissue.

The researchers are focusing on low grade childhood brain tumours called gliomas. Gliomas are often inoperable because of their location in the brain and can become more aggressive over time.

Professor Sheer's team is looking at the role of molecules called microRNAs, which play an important role in controlling which genes are switched on and off within a cell.

They want to find out whether the pattern of microRNAs found in low grade glioma cells is different from that in normal cells, and if so whether that pattern is linked to tumour growth.

Positive results would bring them one step closer to developing a drug that targets glioma cells, based on their pattern of microRNAs, but leaves healthy tissue unharmed.

Gliomas are formed from cells called glial cells, which are involved in supporting and protecting nerve cells within the brain. Gliomas account for the majority of childhood brain tumours and new treatments are needed urgently.

Project information

Formal title: Genetic and epigenetic foundations of paediatric low grade gliomas

Key Researcher: Professor Denise Sheer, Queen Mary University of London

Tumour type: Paediatric Low Grade Glioma

Research type: Tumour biology

Timing: Granted in March 2013 for three years