Former nurse Heather Taylor-Nicholson with Derek Thomas, Conservative candidate for St. Ives
Former nurse Heather Taylor-Nicholson with Derek Thomas, Conservative candidate for St. Ives

Former nurse Heather Taylor-Nicholson from Penzance has welcomed a pioneering new research centre which will bring hope to thousands who, like her, are living with the terrifying uncertainty of a benign brain tumour.

The 54-year-old, whose inoperable tumour was diagnosed four years ago, toured the laboratories at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry where groundbreaking work is taking place. She also met the scientists dedicated to improving outcomes for patients and, ultimately, finding a cure.

Around 4,300 people are diagnosed with a low-grade brain tumour in the UK each year. Generally referred to as benign, these types of brain tumour, which includes meningioma, ependymoma and acoustic neuroma, are graded 1 or 2 on a scale of 4. The lower grade tumours are non-cancerous whereas grades 3 and 4 are cancerous, faster growing and often more immediately life-threatening. 

Slower-growing tumours are not immediately cancerous, but they can be just as devastating and bring equally dangerous and debilitating effects to patients and their families. They can cause neurological conditions including loss of balance, weakness, memory loss, poor hearing, epilepsy, and personality changes. For many, having a low-grade tumour is like living with a time bomb, wondering when it might suddenly grow more rapidly, become cancerous and spread to other parts of the brain or when the tumour may return after treatment. Sometimes low-grade tumours are located within an inoperable area of the brain.

Heather said: 

“I was eventually diagnosed with an inoperable low-grade meningioma brain tumour after collapsing at work. I have lost my 32-year career as a nurse and can no longer drive. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I do know that I’m here now and I want to live my life while I can and hopefully be of some use to the community.”

Touring the Centre with Heather was Derek Thomas, Conservative candidate for St Ives Constituency, who said: 

“My motivation for pursing politics comes from the many personal and challenging experiences that I hear when I meet people. We have made significant progress in this fight but I recognise there is still a considerable amount of research required. I have travelled up from West Cornwall to show my support for the launch of this vital research centre.’

The new Centre of Excellence sits within Plymouth University Schools of Dentistry and Medicine and is led by Professor Oliver Hanemann. Already holding a reputation as a leading facility in Europe looking at low-grade brain tumours, the team will be able to further advance to translational research – taking research from the laboratory bench to drug testing and clinical trials. This will include exploring potential for the repurposing of existing drugs to ‘fast-track’ potential treatments, instead of waiting for new drugs to be developed, tested and trialled and passed for patient use – a process that can take a decade or longer.

By understanding the mechanism that makes brain cells become cancerous in low-grade tumours, Professor Hanemann and his research team will explore ways in which to halt or reverse this process. The results from this research will inform investigations into high-grade tumours as high and low grade tumours share some common features. The team will work in collaboration with scientists based at Brain Tumour Research’s network of Centres of Excellence across the UK.

Professor Hanemann said: 

“At present the only treatment options for people with such brain tumours is invasive surgery or radiotherapy or facing the prospect of no suitable treatment. By finding and fast-tracking how drugs are tested, we have the potential to make safer, more effective drug therapies available to patients more quickly.”

With secure long-term funding from Brain Tumour Research, Professor Hanemann’s team will be freed from the limitations and frustrations of applying for one specific project grant after another, able instead to pursue the sustainable and continuous research so desperately needed. Generous civic support is already being given across the city, including from Plymouth University partners Plymouth Albion RFC, Plymouth Raiders, Devon Junior and Minor Football League and Santander. 

Sue Farrington Smith, Chief Executive of Brain Tumour Research, said: 

“We are honoured to be in partnership with Plymouth University. This collaboration will help us in our mission to support people in the fight against this devastating disease. Ultimately, it will lead to better outcomes for patients – from improved awareness for earlier diagnosis, to the development of more effective personalised treatments and targeted drugs. Through the funds generated, we will be able to significantly fast-track progress towards finding a cure for all types of brain tumour.”

Brain Tumour Research currently helps fund – through corporate and public fundraising – an annual £1 million programme of research at their Centre of Excellence at the University of Portsmouth. This relationship with Plymouth University, along with additional new partnerships at Queen Mary University, London and Imperial College in London, will pave the way for a £20 million investment in brain tumour research over the next five years,

You can make a difference today by making a £5 donation on your smart phone or tablet. Simply text RSCH06 £5 to 70070 to support this pioneering research. For more information about the partnership with the charity Brain Tumour Research in Plymouth and how you can get involved visit