Plymouth researchers make major breakthrough in brain-cancer treatment
Plymouth scientists have made a major breakthrough which could lead to non- surgical treatment for complex brain cancer.
One in 25,000 people worldwide is affected by neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a condition where multiple tumours develop in the brain and nervous system.
Sufferers may experience 20 to 30 tumours at a time which often lead to hearing loss, disability and eventually prove fatal.
The only currently available treatment is invasive surgery or radiotherapy which are aimed at one tumour at a time.
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However, a research team from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry have identified for the first time a new group of growth receptors that signal to the brain tumours.
The Plymouth research team also identified drugs, which target growth factor receptors in other cancers, which could be adapted for the treatment of NF2.
Their study is published today in Oncogene, one of the world's leading cancer journals.
The research was led by Professor C Oliver Hanemann, chairman of clinical neurobiology at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.
He said: "At present the only treatment available to NF2 sufferers is repeated surgery to remove tumours.
"This is only partially effective, because in some cases tumours are in areas where it is impossible to reach with surgery, and because eradicating a tumour from a part of the brain or nervous system does not mean that another one will not grow in its place.
"Chemotherapy is not an option, because in most cases NF2 tumours are slow growing – it is their sheer number that causes risk to the patient.
"Our study in Oncogene offers real hope to patients, because it identifies how the growth of NF2 tumours works and shows that existing drugs could be modified to help stop and even reverse the rate of tumour growth."
Prof Hanemann, a consultant in neurology at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said their findings were "good news for patients" on two fronts.
He added: "It shows that there could be a valid alternative to surgery and because the answer may be the adaptation of existing drugs, therapies could be developed relatively quickly because the process of clinical trials and drug registration has already taken place.
"Also the mechanism causing tumours in NF2 is also causing many spontaneous brain cancers and is found in other cancers. So what we found has potential relevance for other cancers."
The study comes hard on the heels of news of funding from the Medical Research Council for a study headed by Professor David Parkinson and Cancer Research UK for the same research team. The funding is being used to investigate why the mechanisms that suppress the growth and multiplication of tumours in the brain and nervous system do not work in some people, and to show how a new drug could be used as an alternative treatment to surgery.