Lauren Gay was awarded a Brain Research UK PhD studentship in 2021 to enable her to pursue research into medulloblastoma, the most common brain cancer in children.
During her Master's degree in the Molecular Biology and Pathology of Viruses, Lauren spent six months working with Professor Amin Hajitou on a project using viruses to target medulloblastoma. She developed a great enthusiasm for this field of research, and will continue to build on the ideas and work developed during this time.
Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumour in children, with around 55 new cases every year in the UK.
It develops in the cerebellum, an area of the brain that plays a vital role in coordination and movement.
It is an aggressive tumour that is likely to grow quickly, and can spread to other areas of the brain and spinal cord. Aggressive treatment is needed to halt this growth, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Despite this aggressive treatment, however, only 6 in 10 children diagnosed with medulloblastoma survive, a rate that has not improved in the last 20 years.
For those who survive, there is an unacceptably high-risk of serious treatment-related side effects - both transient and permanent.
New treatments that are both safe and effective are desperately needed.
Working with supervisor Professor Hajitou, Lauren is working on an alternative, safer treatment approach that could save the lives of young medulloblastoma patients without harming their developing brains.
A literal barrier to the successful treatment of all brain tumours is the blood-brain barrier (BBB), a natural filter that protects the brain from harmful substances that may be circulating in the blood. The BBB complicates the treatment of brain tumours - and other brain disorders - because it hampers the delivery of drugs to the brain.
Lauren aims to use a harmless virus known as a bacteriophage (phage) as a carrier that can naturally bypass the BBB. Phage do not usually infect human cells but they can be specifically engineered to target tumour cells without affecting healthy tissue. This will limit the side-effects that are associated with current treatments.
There is an urgent need for new treatments for childhood medulloblastoma - treatments that are not only more effective, but less harmful.
In this project, we hope that Lauren will help demonstrate that this type of phage therapy has the potential to replace current invasive and toxic treatments, to drive up survival whilst protecting quality of life in young survivors.
Equally important, through this PhD studentship, we are nurturing the development of a promising young researcher who we hope will go on to develop a long and illustrious career in this under-researched and under-resourced field.
Brain tumours are one of our current research priorities, reflecting the large unmet need in this area. Our aim is to fund research to advance understanding of the causes and underlying mechanisms of brain tumours, and help us to diagnose and treat them more effectively.
Other research projects currently funded under this theme:
Find out about our other research in this area: