Update for the Alison Fracella Research Trust

The Alison Fracella Research Trust is supporting the work of the neuro-oncology research team led by Dr Liam Welsh at The Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute for Cancer Research. The team are researching new treatment opportunities for glioblastomas and other brain tumours. Their work covers the whole research process from laboratory testing all the way through to delivering clinical trials.

In past years, your support helped deliver the team’s clinical trials of new treatments. This year your donation will help develop their laboratory work, enabling them to better explore the use of targeting drugs in treating brain tumours.

Analysing the genetic characteristics of brain tumours

Increasingly, new treatments are targeting specific cancer-causing genetic mutations. The same mutations can be found in many different tumour types, so drugs which are already being used for other types of cancer may  also target brain tumours. Dr Welsh and his team are therefore looking into the specific genetic make-up of brain tumours, including glioblastoma, in order to find targeted treatments that will have an effect  against these aggressive types of cancer.

The team have successfully established a Tissue Bank in partnership with St George’s Hospital (where brain surgery is performed) to facilitate their research. The Tissue Bank contains cancerous tissue samples from brain tumours which have been taken from patients during surgery. The samples allow our researchers to reliably test new treatments in a lab environment, greatly expanding their ability to classify the genetic make-up of glioblastoma and other brain tumours.

The Alison Fracella Research Trust’s donation this year is funding a specialist Tissue Collector, whose job is to work with neuro-surgeons to secure, collate and store tumour samples so that they are ready for use by our researchers. This is a new position which has been made possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters.

How your support is helping

Thanks to your donations, the Tissue Bank is now growing and research into the specific genetic characteristics of brain tumours is underway. This new resource gives our research team the ability to test theories and think creatively about ways in which they might be able to target treatments to different types of brain tumour.

For example, a particular gene called EGFR is known to be mutated in 57% of glioblastomas, suggesting that this mutation plays a significant role in causing these tumours. We know that existing drugs which target and inhibit the EGFR gene have been successful in treating lung cancer patients with this mutation. However, all previous trials which attempted to use these drugs for glioblastoma patients with this same mutation have not been convincing.  

Our team are looking into the reason for these negative results by experimenting on samples in the Tissue Bank. They are using different types of EGFR inhibitors and increasing the dose to higher levels – a flexible way of working that is not possible to achieve in clinical trials for safety reasons. These experiments are beginning to show positive results that have the potential to translate into new clinical trials at a more effective dose. This could, in turn, bring a new targeted treatment option for patients with glioblastoma. Other targetted therapies exploit proteins of IDH, FGFR, both of which are part of clinical trials.

Going forward, the team will be looking for new genetic characteristics of brain tumours, so that they can continue to identify and develop new personalised treatments. They are particularly interested identifying effective drugs that have failed in clinical trials due to dose size and are therefore currently being ignored.

Thank you

The neuro-oncology research team at The Royal Marsden would like to thank the supporters of the Alison Fracella Research Trust for helping to provide much-needed funding for research into glioblastoma and other brain tumours.

The investigations that you are making possible are at the forefront of brain tumour research worldwide, and have the potential to bring more effective personalised treatments to patients everywhere.

Thank you for your generous support.