Could a special diet help to treat or prevent childhood gliomas?

We desperately need new treatments for glioma, a type of brain cancer which is the leading cause of death from cancer in children. Prof Thomas Seyfried is studying whether combining drugs with a ketogenic diet has potential as a non-toxic treatment for glioma. It might also prevent children at risk from developing the cancer all together.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Investigating metabolic mechanisms driving childhood brain cancer

  • Lead Researcher

    Professor Thomas Seyfried

  • Research Centre

    Massachusetts, USA

  • City & Institution Postcode


  • Start Date

    1 January 2020

  • Duration

    36 months

  • Grant Amount


man with grey hair wearing glasses in a lab professot tom seyfried


Gliomas are a type of brain tumour, and are sadly the leading cause of death from cancer in children. Worryingly, the number of children being diagnosed with gliomas is rising. We need to find new ways to treat this aggressive cancer and prevent it from developing.

In previous research, Prof Thomas Seyfried has shown that gliomas use glucose (sugar) and another nutrient called glutamine in a unique way, which helps these tumours to grow rapidly.

In this project, Prof Seyfried and his team will investigate whether a special diet, called the ketogenic diet, has potential as a non-toxic treatment for glioma. The ketogenic diet is high in fat but low in carbohydrates, which reduces the amount of glucose available for the brain. The diet is currently used to treat childhood epilepsy, so it is already known to be safe for children.

Using glioma cells grown in the lab and in mice, they will study whether combining the ketogenic diet with drugs prevents glioma cells from using glucose and glutamine as fuel to grow. Prof Seyfried will also investigate in mice whether the ketogenic diet could potentially be used to reduce the risk of developing gliomas in the first place.

What difference will this project make?

If this project is successful, this combination of a ketogenic diet and drugs could rapidly progress to be tested in children and adults with glioma. This could eventually provide a new option to treat gliomas, the leading cause of death from cancer in childhood. The ketogenic diet might also help children at risk of develop glioma to reduce their chances of developing the cancer.


About the Research Team

The research team consists of Professor Thomas Seyfried, Dr Purna Mukherjee and Dr Aria Tzika. Dr Seyfired is professor of biology and has investigated the biochemistry of epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer for over 40 years at Yale University and at Boston College.

Dr Pruna Mukherjee is a senior research associate in the Biology Department at Boston College, and has worked with Dr Seyfried on the cancer projects for twenty years. Her research focuses on diet and cancer, especially related to energy metabolism and energy sensing pathways.

Dr Aria Tzika is Director of NMR Surgical Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital and Shriners Burns Institute, Harvard Medical School in Boston. Her research focuses on the use of advanced imaging methods to assess different states of disease in tissue.

The goal of this research is to move and incorporate research in experimental animal models with clinical research and medicine; and to develop therapies for tumour growth, injury, and inflammation in paediatric brains. Thus, the research team have the highest qualifications and ability to complete the proposed research.

Research Involving Animals

Children with Cancer UK is a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and supports the AMRC’s position statement on using animals in research. We support the principle of using animals in research when it is necessary to advance understanding of health and disease and to develop new treatments; we want to find improved treatments that will cure even the hardest-to-treat forms of childhood cancer, causing minimal side effects for the child. This research only takes place where there is no other alternative available and projects are only funded by us after rigorous assessment that specifically addresses the proposed use of animals.

Children with Cancer UK has signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, alongside over 120 other organisations. Together, we have committed to enhancing our communication about the use of animals in research. For our full Position Statement on animal research, please click the link below.

Children with Cancer UK Animal Research Position Statement – June 2020