Newcastle University study hopes to save lives by improving cancer treatments

Newcastle University is at the forefront of a research project aimed at beating childhood brain tumours

Lewis Arnold Cameron Angus and Dad James outside the optitians where Cameron's brain tumour was discovered
Cameron Angus and Dad James outside the optitians where Cameron's brain tumour was discovered

Experts in the North East are leading pioneering research aimed at tackling childhood brain tumours.

The £4m study will examine new ways to deal with some of the worst brain tumours affecting youngsters.

A team from Newcastle University, based at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, will use screening techniques to identify genetic and biochemical features of aggressive forms of the illness.

By matching their findings to the progress of young patients with these tumours in the clinic, they hope to find out how such characteristics affect the way the tumours grow.

That information will be used to develop tailored treatments for different groups of youngsters so that therapies which target specific tumour characteristics can be offered to those whose are identified as the most dangerous.

Steven Clifford, a professor of molecular paediatric oncology, who is leading the study, said: “The benefits that we’re trying to bring to children with brain tumours are two-fold.

“Through understanding the biology of brain tumours in much more detail, we hope to be able to increase the cure rate.

“And for those children that survive their brain tumours, we also want to make sure that their quality of life is as good as it can be.”

The five-year study is co-funded by a £2m grant from The Brain Tumour Charity and Children with Cancer UK, and a further £2m from other sources, including Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.

Once again the North East is at the forefront in the fight against cancer as The Journal yesterday highlighted how a new life-extending breast cancer drug trialled in the region is available for women with the HER2 gene who have stopped responding to treatment.

Prof Clifford said: “It is extremely exciting that we are at a point where we are starting to turn laboratory discoveries into new treatments.

“Newcastle is a key centre in doing this and it is fantastic how the North East is at the forefront of delivering new and innovative treatments for cancer patients.”

Newcastle is one of three UK centres that make up the INSTINCT network, created to further the understanding and treatment of aggressive childhood brain tumours.

INSTINCT, which also includes the University College London Institute of Child Health and the Institute of Cancer Research in London, brings together the work of scientists and clinicians in the field of high-risk paediatric brain tumour.

One focus for the Newcastle scientists is on a type of fast-growing tumour known as medulloblastoma.

Schoolboy Cameron Angus was diagnosed with a high-risk brain tumour at the age of nine after a visit to the optician revealed swelling behind his eyes.

Now aged 12, the twin, of Gosforth, Newcastle, is doing well following surgery and intensive courses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Mum Sally, who also has daughter Olivia, said: “It is fantastic that they are doing this research so that they are developing new treatments all the time and children don’t need to go through treatment that isn’t necessary.

“It is very reassuring for parents to know that this research is being done in the North East. We could not live in a better place for cancer treatment.”

Neil Dickson, vice-chair of The Brain Tumour Charity, described the investment as a milestone in brain tumour research.

He said: “We are absolutely delighted that The Brain Tumour Charity has been able to award funding for these research projects, which we hope will bring about much-needed improvements in the understanding and treatment of brain tumours. This level of spending on brain tumour research is unprecedented in the UK. It has been made possible by our dedicated supporters and fundraisers.”

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