Brain tumours can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). While benign tumours can often be cured with surgery, the required brain surgery has the risk of neurological harm including stroke and loss of important senses like hearing and sight.
In some, the damage caused by surgery would be too severe and therefore they cannot be completely removed. Other treatments such as radiotherapy then become important, although they have their own side effects.
Improving research into brain tumours
Benign brain tumours receive very little funding because they are not cancer, but they have a massive impact on the quality of patients’ lives. These tumours include the most common primary brain tumour called meningioma, as well as other tumours such as vestibular schwannoma and pituitary neuroendocrine tumours.
At the other end of the spectrum, brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40. Around 12,000 people are diagnosed each year with a primary brain tumour – equivalent to 33 people every day.
They have been described as a cancer of ‘unmet need’, reflecting their disproportionate socioeconomic impact and in particular the failure to achieve comparable improvements in outcomes, to those seen in other cancer types.
A 2018 Department of Health report on brain tumour research highlighted that despite accounting for only 3% of cancers in the UK, brain tumours account for more deaths in men aged under 45 than prostate cancer, and more than breast cancer in women under 35.
We want life expectancy for even the most aggressive tumours to be better, but there has been very limited improvement for the past 6 decades. Research offers the only real hope of dramatic improvements in the management and treatment of brain tumours.
In Manchester, we treat the most brain tumour patients in the UK, and we are the only centre to be able to offer all modalities of treatment, including proton beam therapy.
Neurofibromatosis type 1 and 2
Brain tumours can also be part of a genetic (inheritable condition). Two of the more common (but still rare) conditions are NF1 and NF2.
Although the names are very similar, they are very different and produce entirely different sorts of brain tumours.
Neurofibromatosis tumours are related to mutations in genes that play key roles in suppressing cell growth in the nervous system. These mutations keep the genes NF1 and NF2 from making normal proteins that control cell production.
Manchester is one of two NF1 specialist centres in England. For NF2, it is the lead centre for the NF2 service. Globally, five of the top NF2 25 experts in the world are in Manchester.
The world-leading NF2 research in Manchester has led to investment from the international charity NF2 BioSolutions, which has funded the Geoffrey Jefferson Brain Research Centre to host two PhD students. Read more on the NF2 BioSolutions blog.
To demonstrably improve survival and quality of life in patients with brain and skull base tumours, we need to discover better treatments and rapidly translate basic science findings into healthcare benefit.
We aim to do this by:
- developing a leading centre for clinical and pre-clinical trials;
- establishing a Phase 0 study centre;
- developing a leading centre for radiobiology and quality of life;
- leading a multicentre Phase III study from our candidate agents targeted at the inflammatory microenvironment.
The Tessa Jowell BRAIN MATRIX is a first-if-its-kind study that will enable clinicians to treat brain tumours with drugs that are more targeted than ever before. All participants in the study will have their tumour analysed to understand its molecular profile.
This will be linked to clinical data, imaging data and treatment, providing a more powerful and in-depth analysis than ever before, ensuring people will know sooner if new experimental treatments could be appropriate for them.
Learn more about BRAIN MATRIX and the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission.
Basic science research
The Surgical Neuro-Oncology Manchester lab investigates the biology of and treatments for brain and skull base tumours.
- Twitter: @SNOMAN_Lab
Read David’s research profile