Report from Dr Carol Walker

Astro Brain Tumour Fund Brain Tumour Research Co-ordinator

May 2011

I took up my new part-time post as a Brain Tumour Research Co-ordinator in September 2010.  After a career as a scientist at Clatterbridge and the University of Liverpool with recent emphasis on translational brain tumour research, the change in role has been both stimulating and interesting but also challenging. However my past experience makes me well suited to research co-ordination and progress in the first months of the post has been overall very good.

The aim of the research co-ordinator post is to promote and facilitate basic and translational multidisciplinary research in brain tumours within Liverpool and the North West, but also extend to other regions where appropriate. Successful research has many aspects apart from the pure laboratory or analytical research itself. Key components include:- communication and collaboration, governance and resources, development of projects, obtaining funding and supporting research staff. In order to foster brain tumour research in the region we have made progress in each of these areas.

Communication & Collaboration

Brain Tumour North West (BTNW) is a strategic alliance between hospitals and universities across the North West bringing together scientists and clinicians committed to improved diagnosis and treatments of brain tumours.  I am now a key player in BTNW taking part in research meetings, management meetings and I have helped to co-ordinate the BTNW annual conference.  This conference in December was highly successful and discussion groups are being held during 2011 as a consequence. In Liverpool we have recently set up the Liverpool Neuro-oncology Research Group which brings together researchers and clinicians treating adult and paediatric brain tumour patients. Both of these organisations play an important role in stimulating and supporting young researchers.

Governance & Resources

Adherence to research governance and access to tissue samples with appropriate ethics approval is essential for translational clinical research. Gaining ethical approval is now a vital part of any clinically related research. Since taking up this post, I have successfully applied for ethics approval to set up a Walton Research Tissue Bank which is now operational.  This bank shadows the tissue bank already in place at Preston and through collaboration we will work together to ensure that good clinical cohorts are available to researchers.  Co-operation between banks is particularly important as many brain tumours are low incidence making studies at a single centre impossible.

Development of Projects

Through discussions several new projects have been initiated in the last few months.  Four projects have been submitted to the Walton Tissue Bank for approval and release of clinical samples.  Two of these relate to the diagnosis and treatment of high grade gliomas, one is translational and the other is a basic science project to understand better the influence of hypoxia (reduced oxygen) within tumour tissues on response to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  The other two projects involve investigation of genomics and gene expression in brain metastases (tumours that develop in the brain but have spread from a primary tumour elsewhere in the body).  Such research is particularly important as brain metastasis affects approximately 27,000 cancer patients each year.

Another important new development made possible by the research co-ordinator post is the initiation of a multidisciplinary, multicentre low grade glioma study.  Low grade gliomas are relatively rare and comprise a variety of histologically different tumour types. Their study in a single hospital is therefore very difficult.  The proposed study will recruit low grade glioma patients from Sheffield, Bristol, Liverpool and Preston and will result in  molecular genetic and imaging and blood-bourne biomarker research studies  being undertaken at the Universities of Central Lancashire, Manchester, Liverpool and Wolverhampton.  Such a complex package requires collaboration between numerous institutions and individuals and its initiation and development is quite a challenge.

Funding & Supporting

The resources set up in the last few months should pave the way forward and allow brain tumour researchers to be competitive in funding applications. Since September we have successfully obtained funding for a research assistant for a high grade glioma project based at the Walton Centre and Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology.  I have also assisted in the development of other funding applications that will be submitted to major funding bodies in the next few months.