In February 2016, we gathered a group of eminent scientists and clinicians for a workshop focused on the treatment of childhood brain tumours.
Katie Martin reports on our recent Brain Tumour Workshop at the Royal College of Physicians in London.
It was enormously inspiring to spend two days in the company of such dedicated, passionate individuals – including not only the scientists, doctors and surgeons who are working so hard to improve the outlook for young brain tumour patients, but also some of the parents of children who have faced or are facing brain tumours.
Under the Chairmanship of Professor David Walker, chair of our Scientific Advisory Panel, we brought together a unique group of people to tackle the very specific problem of drug delivery in childhood brain tumours; the first workshop of this kind worldwide.
As well as some of the UK’s leading scientists and clinicians, we were joined by leading figures from Europe, the US and Canada. We were also joined by other research funders, patient representatives and policy makers.
By virtue of the very fact that brain tumours occur in the brain, they are exceptionally difficult to treat.
Surgery and radiotherapy both carry the risk of damage to healthy brain tissue, which can have grave consequences. The delivery of chemotherapy to the brain is challenging because the brain is protected by the ‘blood-brain barrier’ (BBB), a natural filter that stops toxins from passing from the blood to the brain.
The BBB performs a vital function, protecting the brain from infection or damage, but for brain tumour patients, it hinders the delivery of chemotherapy to the brain.
A number of different techniques have been used, with varying degrees of success, to penetrate the BBB and get drugs to the brain. Over the two days of this highly interactive workshop, participants shared information about their research and clinical practice to overcome the BBB through a variety of means.
The techniques under discussion included the insertion of chemotherapy ‘wafers’ in the brain following surgery, disruption of the BBB by ultrasound and the use of nanotechnology to deliver therapy.
Participants shared experiences and forged new collaborations to take forward the development of these and other techniques.
Congratulations on what was without doubt in my mind the best meeting that I have ever attended. It was so great that everyone bought into the atmosphere of openness and collaboration that was created. I am sure those two days will lead to some fine cross-border research, both geographical and disciplinary.
The workshop is just the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing forum for those working in this field.
We have made some funding available for the development of a formal drug delivery consortium, which is currently in development. We also launched a call for applications for projects focused on drug delivery (deadline May 2016); awards will ultimately be made at the end of the year.
A report on the workshop has been published by ecancer, along with interviews with some of our speakers.
Watch our workshop chair, Professor David Walker, discussing the aims of the workshop