Imperial College London

The Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Imperial College London is working to improve the diagnosis and treatment of adults with high-grade glioma, including glioblastoma (GBM), the most common primary high-grade brain tumour in adults.

The Centre has an outstanding 'Convergence Science' research programme that brings together researchers from a wide range of disciplines, leveraging their unique skills to answer scientific and clinical questions that will improve patient survival.

Improving precision therapy and monitoring of brain tumours

The Centre has three defined areas of research which will improve options and outcomes for glioblastoma patients. Not only are they investigating new drug treatments for glioblastoma patients, but they are also developing new intra-operative tools to aid in neurosurgery, and designing wearable technology which will non-invasively monitor patients to better understand their response to treatment between scans.

The close collaboration between the research laboratories at Imperial College London, the Department of Computing, the Hamlyn Centre of Robotics and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, particularly Charing Cross Hospital, places the Centre in a strong position to ensure that research is quickly translated into the clinic where patients can benefit from the cutting-edge research.

Developing new drug treatments

Like many other cancers, brain cancers rely heavily upon glucose (a type of sugar) and specific amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) as fuel. This is different from normal tissues in the human body and is potentially vulnerable to targeted treatment by metabolic therapies.

Dr Nelofer Syed is leading a research group who are looking to exploit this abnormal metabolism and develop new metabolic therapies for brain tumour patients that will work in combination with other established treatments.

  • Can arginine deprivation make current treatments for GBM more effective? 

    Arginine is a key amino acid for brain tumours and the research team at Imperial has already shown that depriving brain tumours of arginine can cause them to die.

    Dr Syed and her team are progressing this work and are investigating whether arginine deprivation can make current standard of care therapies, such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, more effective.

  • Can a ketogenic diet help in the treatment of high-grade brain tumours? 

    The ketogenic diet is high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and adequate protein diet that patients can follow. It is already an established therapy for treatment-resistant epilepsy in children.

    Dr Syed's team is working to understand how the ketogenic diet affects brain tumours when used alongside other therapies (radio- or immuno- therapy), in particular, what role the ketogenic diet may have in the immune response to tumours.

  • How do metabolic therapies affect the immune system?

    The research team at Imperial has already demonstrated that metabolic therapies, such as arginine deprivation and the ketogenic diet, influence the brain's immune response to brain tumours causing them to attack tumour cells.

    Dr Syed's team is looking at how the immune system is activated by these therapies and whether they can enhance the effects of up and coming immunotherapies.

  • Does arginine deprivation have the same effect in DIPG?

    Dr Syed and her team are expanding their arginine deprivation research to establish whether the metabolic therapy also enhances radiotherapy in DIPG, like it does in adult GBM.

    DIPG is an example of a paediatric-type diffuse high-grade glioma which has very few treatment options and extremely poor prognosis.

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In the news: Developing a clinical trial

The laboratory and clinical research teams at Imperial College, London, are working together to develop a robust protocol for a ‘window of opportunity’ clinical trial for arginine deprivation.

In the trial named WISTERIAN, newly-diagnosed GBM patients will be given a drug called ADIPEG-20 alongside radiotherapy before brain tumour surgery.

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Making surgery safer and more effective

Surgery is key to the treatment of patients with brain cancers. The aim is to remove as much of the cancer as possible without damaging normal brain tissue. However, it can be extremely difficult to know exactly what is the cancerous tissue during the operation.

The clinical team at the Imperial Centre is developing tools that can be used intra-operatively during brain tumour surgery in order to maximise the removal of tumour tissue, whilst reducing post-operative complications and risks, such as stroke and brain injury, which impact on function and quality of life.

  • Can you use technology during surgery to make it safer and more effective?

    The clinical research team is developing a new piece of equipment that neurosurgeons can use during surgery to help maximise the removal of brain tumours, particularly gliomas.

    The equipment will provide the surgeon with real-time 3D visualisation combined with microscopic information about the hard-to-see tumour tissue that remains following removal, which will ultimately go on to cause the tumour to grow back. It will also use information about the function of surrounding brain tissue to guide surgeons on how pro-active they can be in removing the tumour without damaging crucial brain tissue.

    This will not only improve patient outcomes as the amount of tumour removed is linked to patient overall survival, but will also reduce post-operative complications, such as stroke and brain damage, which impact on function and quality of life. 


    The project is being run at the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Imperial College London, with support from the Imperial College NHS Trust. The project will particularly harness the skills of the Department of Bioengineering and the Hamlyn Centre at Imperial College London.

In the news: Can you diagnose brain tumours with a blood test? 

Researchers at our Imperial Centre have been working in collaboration with Datar Cancer Genetics to develop and validate a blood test designed to help diagnose brain tumours when a conventional biopsy is not possible.

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Wearable technology

When patients are treated for brain cancer, it is very difficult to know if they have responded to treatment or if the cancer is growing. Currently MRI scans are used to monitor patients, but even these can take a long time to change following treatment and can fail to detect subtle changes which may be important.

  • Can you use wearable technology to monitor a patient's response to treatment?

    The clinical research team is developing a method to use wearable technology to assess how a patient is responding to treatment.

    In this project, researchers will use near-patient sensing (NPS) technology to assess how physically active patients are, whether their balance is altered and if their speech has changed. They will then compare these results with MRI scans to give clinicians rapid indication on whether patients are responding to treatment or whether the cancer is growing.

    The team at Imperial will work closely with the Department of Computing, Imperial College London to validate NPS in patients with brain tumours and develop the next generation of NPS sensors and analytical approaches.

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