The Brain Tumour Research Centre at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) is a partnership between The Blizard Institute at QMUL, University College London (UCL), and The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London. The team here focuses primarily on research into glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and aggressive form of brain tumour in adults. They also work on choroid plexus tumours which are more rare, although potentially equally devastating. Choroid plexus tumours can affect people of all ages, but are most often diagnosed in children who are less than one year old.
Certain fundamental questions need to be addressed if we want to develop more effective treatments for these devastating forms of brain tumour, including:
- Where do the tumour cells originate from?
- How do they develop?
- How can we identify targets in these cells for new drugs to act on?
- Which new and repurposed drugs provide hope for the future?
GBM Stem Cell Research
In the five years since the Centre was established with funding from the Brain Tumour Research charity, an entirely new experimental research pipeline has been established. It begins with the highly effective recruitment of patients at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London who are willing to donate their brain tumour tissue during scheduled biopsies and surgeries. The tissue is used to derive individual tumour cells that can be grown in a petri dish and compared to normal, healthy brain cells from the same patient. Using a combination of laboratory work and artificial intelligence (sophisticated analytical computer programs) the team is already identifying key molecular differences that can potentially be exploited to find a cure.
Why are GBM stem cells so important?
GBMs are highly varied tumours that contain a mixture of different cells that vary in proportion from patient to patient, making it very difficult to find a “one drug fits all” answer to successfully treating them. In order to tackle this ultimate challenge, the team at QMUL are focused on studying a subset of cells known as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) stem cells or glioma initiating cells (GIC) that share many features with normal neural stem cells (NSC) and have the ability to self-renew and grow. This property is thought to be what makes tumours resistant to treatment and to re-grow even when treatment initially appears to be going well, with devastating effects for everyone affected by this deadly form of cancer.
The next step is to validate the novel methods developed by this groundbreaking research, continue to identify the differences in tumour cells that can be targeted with drugs, and begin to test those likely to have the greatest success. The benefit of identifying such targets and then developing drugs to affect them is that healthy cells in the surrounding brain will be unharmed, hence reducing the risk of any side effects.
To develop a non-toxic cure lies at the heart of the research at this innovative Centre of Excellence. This project, which has a strong emphasis on how to develop individualised drug treatment regimes for patients in the future, is set to be of global significance in the race to find a cure for brain tumours, but without your help we can not build upon all that has been achieved so far and we risk losing the specialised researchers who are needed to complete the project into other, better funded areas of cancer research
Choroid plexus brain tumours
Choroid plexus brain tumours are most commonly diagnosed in children before they are even one year old, although they can also be diagnosed in both children and adults.
Pioneering research at our Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has led to the publication of a 2019 research paper providing evidence that a proportion of choroid plexus papilloma is characterised by prominent inflammation, which contributes to the growth of these tumours. The team is now exploring whether anti-inflammatory drugs may provide future treatment options for some subgroups of benign choroid plexus tumours, though this needs further laboratory based work and human clinical trials before being successfully translated into a new treatment regime.
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