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Making a difference in brain tumour research

by Kat Arney | Analysis

14 April 2010

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Cancer Research UK is the leading funder of brain tumour research in the UK

Cancer Research UK is the leading funder of brain tumour research in the UK

Every week we receive hundreds of enquiries from the public and our supporters, asking all kinds of questions about the charity, our work and cancer in general.

Recently, we’ve had quite a few letters and emails – including from a number of MPs – asking about our research into brain tumours.

So we thought we’d take this opportunity to highlight a recent exciting development in brain tumour research, and explain a bit more about our role in this area.

We are the largest funder of brain tumour research in the UK

Last year we spent £5.5 million specifically on research into many different types of tumour affecting the brain and nervous system. We’re currently funding over 35 projects that are wholly or partly focusing on brain tumours – some are highlighted on our News & Resources website.

But it’s important to remember that this doesn’t include the large proportion of our funds that are spent on research into cancer biology that is relevant to all or many types of cancer, including brain tumours – an impressive total of £142.9 million. This fundamental research underpins virtually all our progress in beating cancer, from understanding the causes of cancer to developing new diagnostic tests and treatments.

Our impact

Perhaps our greatest achievement in brain tumour research is the development of temozolomide – a drug now used to treat thousands of patients all over the world affected by glioma. You can read more about the story of the drug’s development on our main website and watch an interview with Professor Malcolm Stevens, who discovered it.

But we’ve also made an impact in other ways.

For example, our scientists in Newcastle discovered a test that can help doctors identify children who need more intensive treatment for medulloblastoma, the most common type of childhood brain tumour.  And Cancer Research UK-funded scientists have also made strides in identifying some of the faulty genes linked to brain tumours, including meningioma, ependymoma and pilocytic astrocytoma.

We have also made a difference to treatment for brain tumours – particularly those affecting children. Thanks to the efforts of cancer researchers, the number of children surviving a brain tumour has doubled since the 1960s. For example, a clinical trial we helped fund showed that using chemotherapy to delay or avoid radiotherapy in children under three with ependymoma reduces the risk of long term side effects. The other organisation that supported this trial was the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, bringing us on to our next point.

Working together to beat brain tumours

Science is a collaborative process, so we work together with other organisations. As well as teaming up with others to fund research projects and clinical trials, in 2009 we launched a new joint funding initiative with the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust. This was a concerted effort to encourage research proposals for early clinical trials so that we can increase our funding of vital research into brain tumours.

Our Clinical Trials Awards and Advisory Committee met in March to discuss the applications they received, and we will soon be able to announce the details of the exciting projects that were recommended for funding.

And we recently teamed up with golfer Seve Ballasteros, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2008. Together, we set up the Seve Ballasteros Foundation, raising money to fund even more vital research into brain tumours.

There is still much more to be done, but Cancer Research UK is leading the way in researching the complex array of diseases that come under the banner of brain tumours. And in a future post, we’ll be highlighting current research on an exciting new area of cancer research – brain tumour stem cells.