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New super sponge could transform brain cancer treatment

6 December 2023

Brain scan / sgan yr ymennydd

A new drug delivery method using a unique sponge-like material hopes to improve the treatment of a highly aggressive form of brain cancer in the future.

A team of researchers, led by Dr Benjamin Newland at Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is exploring a unique sponge-like material that will contain cancer targetting drugs. This will be inserted directly into the empty space within the brain where a difficult to treat glioblastoma multiforme tumor has been removed through surgery.

Dr Benjamin Newland, Cardiff University, said: “Glioblastoma multiforme tumours are the most aggressive and common type of primary malignant brain tumor in adults and are difficult to treat. Glioblastoma multiforme cells are very often left behind following surgery, meaning they continue to grow and multiply, leading to recurrence of the disease.

“In the human body, there is a barrier between the blood and the brain, designed to protect the brain against toxins and pathogens. However, this barrier also prohibits traditional cancer therapies and drug delivery systems from targeting brain cancer cells, making them ineffective at reaching and treating brain cancer. This means the prognosis for glioblastoma multiforme patients, and also other patients with brain conditions, is poorer than we would like.”

The team, comprising researchers from five UK universities, are working together on designing, producing and testing an innovative sponge-like material which can hold and deliver combinations of repurposed cancer drugs directly to the tumour cells that remain inside the brain, bypassing the blood-brain barrier entirely.

This new technique will also reduce the adverse side-effects associated with cancer therapeutics.

“This project marks the start of our journey towards a shift in brain cancer treatment. By creating a new delivery system, we aim to tap into the multitude of existing drugs and unlock their potential to thwart brain tumours. Our team draws together a range of expertise and we are very excited to undertake this challenge to improve the outcomes for brain tumour patients.”
Dr Ben Newland Lecturer

This project has been awarded £500,000 thanks to a funding partnership between the Medical Research Council and the charity, Brain Tumour Research. This is the charity’s first partnership with the MRC and their first major investment in Wales.

Dr Karen Noble, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Brain Tumour Research said: “We are delighted to be able to support the pioneering work of Dr Newland and his team. Developing a way to deliver therapeutics intraoperatively presents a remarkable opportunity to progress care for brain tumour patients who have waited too long for an improvement in treatment options. We are very excited by this research.”

The funding is part of a £2million cash injection announced by Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. Dr Newland’s project is one of four projects awarded funding following an MRC ‘sandpit’ event where academic experts were able to collaborate and design innovative new projects to address cancers of unmet need. Dr Newland will be working with colleagues from the universities of Nottingham, Birmingham, Sheffield and King’s College London.

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