Like so many of our supporters, I have a very personal motivation for supporting Brain Research UK, following my mother's battle with dementia. As Chair of Trustees, I am enormously grateful to all those who support our vital research and enable progress in our understanding of neurological diseases.
Our 50th anniversary last year was cause for reflection, rather than celebration.
Technological advances made during the last 50 years have driven remarkable progress in our understanding of the brain, in both health and disease. Since the very first CT scan of a human brain in 1971, continued advances in brain imaging have revolutionised our understanding of the living brain and the changes related to different diseases.
Completion of the human genome project, in 2003, has driven advances in gene sequencing technology and enabled the search for genetic variants involved in disease, opening up new opportunities for the treatment of many neurological conditions.
Despite the remarkable advances made, however, we are all too aware of just how much remains to be done. Progress in some disease areas remains extremely limited.
In brain tumours, for example, there has been little progress and little improvement in survival. This is in stark contrast to other types of cancer, where new treatments have dramatically improved survival over recent decades.
Brain tumours have a devastating impact. They kill more than 5,000 people a year in the UK, and are responsible for more deaths in people under the age of 40 than any other cancer. Those who survive can be severely impacted by the effects of the tumour and the treatments used.
Neil Armstrong made history in 1969, when he became the first man to set foot on the moon. This historic achievement followed huge personal tragedy – the loss of his two-year-old daughter, Karen, to the brain tumour DIPG several years earlier. It is a tragic fact that standard treatment for DIPG – palliative radiotherapy – is unchanged since Karen was treated. DIPG remains incurable, and most children die within 18 months of diagnosis. This must change.
In the last five years, thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have invested £2.6 million in research into brain tumours. This funding has supported 12 different projects at Institutes throughout the UK.
Dr Claudia Barros, at the University of Plymouth, has recently completed a project focused on glioblastoma, the most common malignant primary brain cancer in adults. Glioblastoma accounts for more than one in five brain tumour diagnoses, around 2,500 new cases every year in the UK. It has no curative treatment and kills most patients within a year of diagnosis.
Dr Barros set out to understand the properties and mechanisms of the ‘cancer stem cells’ that thwart eradication of the tumour by fuelling and re-forming tumour masses after treatment. To be effective, treatments need to target these stem cells. Dr Barros has taken forward our understanding of the stem cells and their role in the initiation and maintenance of glioblastoma, opening up new treatment possibilities that are already being pursued by her team.
Research like this will improve the outlook for patients affected by brain tumours. Will you please consider making a further donation to help us invest in more of this vital research in brain tumours and other under-funded neurological conditions?
It is only thanks to your donations that, together, we can make a real difference and reduce the impact of neurological conditions to help people live better, longer.
Chair of Trustees
Research into brain tumours is one of our three current research priorities, alongside brain and spinal cord injury, and headache and facial pain. By focusing on these three areas of high patient need, we can have maximum impact. Find out more about our current research funding here.