Five minutes with Tim Ritzmann – BNOS Young Investigator of the Year 2023

2 min read

Following the presentation of the British Neuro-Oncology Society (BNOS) Young Investigator of the Year award, we sat down with winner, Tim Ritzmann, to find out more about his work on ependymomas and how his research will go on to help patients.

What is your research about?

Ependymoma is the second most common malignant brain tumour of childhood. It is an aggressive tumour which has its worst impact on the youngest children. For several decades there have been no significant leaps in improvement of standard of care therapy. The therapies that we currently use are not effective enough in delivering cures, particularly when the tumour relapses. The current therapies also risk damaging the developing childhood brain. As a brain tumour research community, we need to develop better ways of treating these young children with ependymoma.

In order to develop better treatments my research aims to better understand the underlying biology of paediatric ependymoma, in particular the most aggressive form, a type called ‘PFA’. My collaborators and I are using techniques to understand how different areas of the same tumour are different to one another in order to identify weaknesses that might be targets for treatment. I also work on the current SIOP Ependymoma II clinical trial, recently publishing work on biomarkers which can better identify and classify different levels of risk in childhood ependymoma.

How will your research go on to help patients?

It is my belief that we can only develop better and kinder therapies for children with brain tumours if we have an in-depth understanding of the underlying biology of the tumour in the context of the development of the child. Only then can we develop therapies which target particular weaknesses in the tumour. This approach is not a short-term fix but is critical to delivering better outcomes in the future. My work on the clinical trial and ependymoma biomarkers will have a more short-term impact, testing new approaches to treatments which will contribute to better decision making and treatment stratification.

What motivated you to pursue a career in neuro-oncological research?

I am a trainee paediatric oncologist and initially started my training as a paediatrician in 2011. During my undergraduate medical course, I undertook a BMedSci at Nottingham University on developing and validating a new classification system for a type of childhood brain tumour called optic pathway glioma. This work, coupled with my daily work alongside children, young people and their families who are experiencing a childhood cancer diagnosis, made me want to try to improve things through both clinical and research routes. Paediatric neuro-oncology is a rapidly evolving specialty with multiple scientific advances in the past 10 years.

I am inspired by the patients and families that I work with every day, and I believe that the research supported by organisations such as BNOS and Brain Tumour Research provides hope for a better future.

How do you feel about being BNOS Young Investigator of the Year 2023?

It is a real honour to be awarded BNOS Young Investigator of the Year 2023. Whilst it is personally very humbling to be recognised in this way, it is important to remember that research is a team endeavour, and that none of this would have been possible without the support of both my clinical and academic colleagues in Nottingham and collaborators across world. In a time when increasingly specific and rare brain tumour diagnoses are being made, the scientific progress we need can only be achieved through working together across international borders.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting their research career, what would it be?

There are lots of things that I could say here! From an academic perspective, it is very important to do something that makes you happy and something you enjoy. Research can be a bit of a rollercoaster of highs and lows and it is important that you ensure that the highs can compensate for the lows in order to maintain your motivation. It is easy to lose perspective when, unavoidably, becoming very focused on a specific problem – perhaps it is cliched, but it is important to maintain other interests and remember those around you, especially families and friends, who need you. Finding this balance can be very hard to get right – but keep trying.

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