Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Multimillion pound boost for Edinburgh scientists to tackle brain tumours

SCIENTISTS in Edinburgh are set to benefit from over two million pounds to find new ways to tackle brain tumours: March 2018

Frame and Brunton Groups Image
Frame and Brunton Groups (Prof Brunton and Prof Frame third and sixth from the left respectively)

Professors Margaret Frame and Valerie Brunton and their teams at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre have been awarded a prestigious Programme Award by leading charity Cancer Research UK to carry out the groundbreaking research.

Brain tumours are one of the hardest types of cancer to treat, and survival has barely improved over the last 40 years.

The £2.4 million funding will help the Edinburgh scientists to understand more about brain tumours and how to target them with drugs – focusing on the most common type of brain tumour, called glioblastoma.

They will be using new types of cancer stem cell samples, which have been developed by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists in Edinburgh and London by taking cells from patients’ tumours during surgery and then growing them in special conditions in the laboratory.

A stem cell is a kind of ‘starter cell’ that has the potential to grow indefinitely or develop into many different cell types in the body. When a stem cell multiplies, the resulting cells either remain as stem cells or, under the right conditions, can become a type of cell with a more specialised function, such as a brain cell. Cancer stem cells arise following genetic alterations and begin to form tumours that often go on to infiltrate the surrounding brain tissue.

A team led by the University of Edinburgh’s Professor Steve Pollard was awarded £3.7 million by Cancer Research UK in 2016 to carry out the groundbreaking cancer stem cell development work in collaboration with researchers at University College London, to help discover better ways to treat brain tumours.

Now Professors Frame and Brunton and their teams will use these new stem cell ‘models’ to study how a specialised group of molecules – called adhesion proteins – work individually and together in brain tumours, to try and find changes in cancer that can be targeted for therapy.

The scientists hope to increase their understanding of the nature of the proteins and how they cause brain tumours to form. Ultimately their goal is to discover how best to use existing and new drugs, and drug combinations, to treat the disease.

Professor Frame, who was recently awarded an OBE for her contribution to cancer research, said: 

We are thrilled and proud to have been awarded this funding to help us push forward our new ideas on understanding brain tumours and find potential new treatments for patients with this devastating disease. We are looking forward to finding out what we can uncover using techniques developed by our colleagues in Edinburgh and London – which have not been possible until relatively recently. We have a wonderful team here in Edinburgh, and we’re really excited to be pursuing new approaches to treating brain tumours. An important aspect of our work will be to look at how certain proteins affect the surrounding environment in brain tumours, including the immune system, to reveal whether there is potential for immunotherapies to treat glioblastoma. Clinical trials are showing that such immunotherapies are working in other cancer types, and we aim to establish whether this could also be a valuable approach for brain tumours

It is estimated that there are around 240 people are diagnosed with glioblastoma in the brain every year in Scotland. Victoria Steven, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson in Scotland, said:

Whilst survival for many types of cancer has improved dramatically over the last 40 years, tackling brain tumours is still a real challenge and they take the lives of far too many people each year. “This £2.4 million investment recognises the world-leading research taking place in Edinburgh, which is crucial to helping us understand the biology of brain tumours and finding new and better ways to treat them. One-in-two of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lives – so it’s reassuring to know that, thanks to our supporters, Cancer Research UK is able to fund some of the best and most promising research here in Scotland, to help more people survive. There are so many ways to support Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work, from entering Race for Life, with events taking place at locations all around Scotland from May through to September, to giving time to volunteer in our shops. Every step our doctors, nurses and scientists take relies on donations from the public and the tireless fundraising of our supporters.

For more information, visit