News /

New research projects funded

Clockwise from top left: Professor Rob Brownstone, Dr Natividad Gomez-Roman, Dr Dan Williamson & Dr Debbie Hicks, Professor Zameel Cader

We are pleased to share details of four exciting new research projects that are getting underway thanks to the generosity of our fantastic supporters.

We are currently focusing our research funding on three priority areas: brain tumours, brain and spinal cord injury, and headache and facial pain. Out of the broad range of neurological conditions, these are areas where we have identified particularly high levels of patient need, coupled with insufficient research investment.

Each of the newly-funded projects has been selected on the basis that it will make an important contribution to knowledge in one of these three key areas, offering the very best chance of progress towards patient benefit.

Brain tumours were selected as a research theme due to the lack of progress made in research and treatment relative to other cancers. Brain tumours are responsible for 5,500 deaths every year in the UK, including more deaths in people under 40 than any other cancer. For those who do survive, survival can come at substantial cost, with the treatments used commonly giving rise to cognitive disability and other health problems. Brain tumours have historically not attracted the same attention and funding as many other cancers, and this is reflected in the lack of progress made and continued poor outlook.

Under the brain tumour theme, we have funded two new projects. The first, led by Dr Dan Williamson and Dr Debbie Hicks at Newcastle University, aims to improve quality of life for survivors of childhood brain tumours. Their work will advance understanding of how radiotherapy damages the developing brain, giving insight as to how this damage may be reduced or even prevented.

Also focused on brain tumours is Dr Natividad Gomez-Roman at the University of Strathclyde. Her research is focused on glioblastoma, an aggressive, incurable brain tumour that has an average survival of just 12 to 18 months. Natividad is taking a new approach to combating this deadly tumour by focusing on cholesterol, and its role in the growth and survival of glioblastoma cells. She will establish whether it represents a potentially effective target to kill these cells.

Acquired brain and spinal cord injury has been highlighted as a research priority due to ongoing high levels of unmet need amongst those affected, coupled with the limited availability of dedicated research funding. In the UK there are an estimated 2.6 million survivors of traumatic brain injury and stroke, and around 50,000 living with spinal cord injury. More research is needed to help understand how to repair these injuries - to enable those affected to optimise their recovery and enjoy the best quality of life.

One of the most common impairments after spinal cord injury, SCI, is impairment in urinary function. This has been highlighted as a priority by those living with SCI. With our funding, Professor Rob Brownstone at UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology is focusing on this highly debilitating problem. He is setting out to address a key gap in our knowledge of the neural circuits that control bladder function and how these circuits change following SCI. This will provide foundational knowledge to underpin the development of effective therapies.

Headache disorders are common and highly debilitating. So much more than ‘just a headache’, migraine is a severe and complex long-term health condition that is estimated to affect around 11 million people in the UK. Despite this burden, research into migraine and other headache disorders is not well-funded and this has severely limited progress in research and treatment.

A common feature of headache and facial pain disorders is that they substantially worsen at certain times of day. Professor Zameel Cader at the University of Oxford is focusing on the mechanisms underlying this rhythmicity, in particular on proteins known as cryptochromes, and whether these could help unlock new treatment targets for these disorders.

A team effort

Funding this research is a massive team effort.

Our fantastic, generous supporters go to great lengths to raise funds to support our research, often for very personal reasons. People like Dan and Andy, who were both part of our 2024 London Marathon team. Dan's wife Becky was critically injured in a hit and run last year; Andy was given a 5% chance of survival after he suffered a stroke in 2011. Both completed the 26.2 miles and raised thousands of pounds for research.

We are also indebted to the members of our Scientific Advisory Panel, who freely give their time and expertise – reviewing dozens of proposals to help determine which are the most likely to deliver impact. Our Panel members are assisted by hundreds of external reviewers from around the world, who also freely give their valuable time to provide independent expert review.

All this enables talented researchers to drive progress in our understanding of neurological conditions, towards improved treatments that will help people live better, longer.

Can you help us fund more research? 

Every year we receive far more high quality research applications than we can fund. The four projects above were selected from 77 research proposals submitted by teams around the UK. With more funding, we could support more of this research.

Find out how you can help us fund more research to accelerate progress – from making a donation to running a marathon!