Post-event update: Brain tumour experts come together for annual Researcher Workshop

4 min read

From consultant neurosurgeons and professors of neuroscience to PhD students and research assistants, Brain Tumour Research supports scientists at all stages of their careers. This week, we were proud to bring together more than 80 brain tumour experts from across our network of four Brain Tumour Research Centres of Excellence and funded initiatives, as well as from other institutions and organisations, for our annual Researcher Workshop which took place in our home city of Milton Keynes. 

Our varied programme had an overarching theme: Translation and how we can deliver impact for patients, and every presentation was as inspiring as it was informative.  

Our keynote speaker, Dr Lennard Lee, is the Senior National Clinical Advisor to NHS England/Office for Life Sciences. In a hugely motivating address, he outlined the transformational work which allowed the UK to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and how those in our community could adopt a similar change mindset in order to “go faster and drive results”. 

Dr Karen Noble, our Director of Research Policy and Innovation, with Dr Lee 

Dr Lee, who is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford and co-founder of the NHS Cancer Vaccine Launchpad, urged researchers to use their voice, to be disruptive, to bring allies in securing global opportunities, all of which will help “move the dial” in research to find a cure for this devastating disease. 

Treatment options for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM) – the most aggressive and commonly diagnosed brain tumour in adults – are extremely limited with few changes in decades. We were delighted to hear from Dr Matt Williams, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, about progress towards the WISTERIAN window-of-opportunity trial. Aiming to build on exciting findings from our Centre of Excellence at Imperial College London, where a drug called ADI-PEG20 was shown to improve the efficacy of radiotherapy, the study would see GBM patients treated with ADI-PEG20 in combination with radiotherapy prior to surgery, before continuing down the route of standard care. Although the first patients will not be recruited to this trial for a number of years, this trial represents an exciting and much-needed development in the potential future treatment of GBM. 

Another exciting project to improve treatment for GBM is being co-funded by Brain Tumour Research and the Medical Research Council (MRC). Dr Ben Newland from Cardiff University told delegates about his team’s work to develop a ‘super sponge’ – an innovative surgically-implanted, drug-delivery system. Shortly after presenting, Dr Newland was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live where he spoke about his project and about his father who was diagnosed with a GBM a short time ago and sadly died last week.  

Nicola Nuttall with our Chief Executive, Dan Knowles 

Brain tumour patients and their loved ones are at the heart of everything we do, and we were honoured to host Nicola Nuttall who shared the heartbreaking story of her daughter Laura who died of a GBM earlier this year at the age of 23.

The Nuttall family (left to right), Gracie, Laura, Nicola and Mark 

Each of our world-leading Research Centres is focused on particular areas of research and types of brain tumours, and we heard updates from the lab from each of our Principal Investigators. Professor Oliver Hanemann from our University of Plymouth Centre shared an overview of his team’s work on low-grade tumours, including meningioma and schwannoma. Professor Silvia Marino shared more about our Queen Mary University of London’s research into GBM. From our Centre at Imperial College London, Dr Nel Syed updated on her team’s work on arginine deprivation and the ketogenic diet, and Mr Kevin O’Neill focused on work on a liquid biopsy and neurosurgical techniques. Professor Chris Jones introduced the work of our newest Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and its aims to find new treatments for paediatric-type diffuse high grade glioma. 

(Left to right) Dr Nel Syed, Mr Kevin O’Neill, Professor Silvia Marino, Dan Knowles, Professor Oliver Hanemann and Professor Chris Jones 

One of our aims is to develop the next generation of researchers ultimately focusing on all types of brain tumours and it was inspiring to hear enthusiastic presentations from some of our early career researchers. Dr Rebecca Rogers, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ICR, spoke about the team’s research into diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) and diffuse midline glioma; Dr Maria Chatziathansiadou, Research Associate at our Imperial Centre, shared an update on research into the ketogenic diet in treatment of GBM; Dr Sara Badodi, Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, discussed her work in targeting epigenetic dysregulation in paediatric brain tumours; and Dr Juri Na, Research Fellow at our Centre in the University of Plymouth, spoke about her work on enhancing the radiotherapeutic effect in meningioma. 

Dr Juri Na presenting 

A collaborative charity, Brain Tumour Research is proud to work in partnership with a number of organisations and we were pleased to welcome representatives from these partners to update on initiatives. Dr Nicky Huskens, CEO of the TJBCM, explained how the Brain Tumour Research Novel Therapeutics Accelerator (BTR-NTA) can support researchers in getting their research into trials; Professor Delphine Boche Director of BRAIN UK – the national virtual brain tissue bank – explained how this unique and important resource can benefit research; and Adam Thomson, Patient Involvement Officer from our sister charity brainstrust, explained more about the charity’s Patient Research Involvement Movement (PRIME) initiative. 

Delegates heard a unique academic perspective on pharmaceutical companies from Professor Petra Hamerlik, who is Chair of Translational Neuro-oncology at the University of Manchester, and Dr Madhu Madhusudhan, Head of Charity and Patient Engagement at LifeArc, and Dr Catherine Cowell, Translational Research Lead, Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC), Cancer Research UK, explained potential funding opportunities. 

Dr Karen Noble, our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, said “We are proud to have brought together our research community and external speakers for what has been a hugely motivating and inspiring event. The dedication and commitment of these scientists at various stages of their careers is truly inspiring and our annual workshop is not only a chance to celebrate this, but also to share updates on projects and progress, and to discover potential future collaborations. We left the workshop with an even greater sense of hope and an even greater faith that this research and these scientists hold the key to unlocking the uniquely complex puzzle posed by brain tumours. Together we will find a cure.” 

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