On Monday 18 April 2016 the parlous lack of funding for research into brain tumours will be the subject of a formal parliamentary debate in the House of Commons.
The debate comes after years of lobbying by our partner, charity Brain Tumour Research, culminating in a Government e-petition which gained over 120,000 signatures and the publishing of a ground-breaking report by the UK Government Petitions Committee, “Funding for Research into Brain Tumours”, last month.
Many people unfamiliar with brain tumours may be asking, why does this debate need to take place at all? What is it about brain tumour research that merits this level of discussion?
Put simply, brain tumour research has been receiving just one per cent of all cancer research funding in the UK, yet it is the biggest cancer killer of children and young adults under the age of 40.
Brain tumours kill more children than leukaemia or any other cancer; more women under 35 than breast cancer or any other cancer; and more men under 45 than prostate or any other cancer.
Fewer than 20 per cent of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years, compared with an average of 50 per cent for all cancers. Up to 40 per cent of all cancers spread to the brain, and here in the South West we have the highest level of incidents of brain tumour than anywhere else in the country.
And the UK Government Petitions Committee report “Funding for Research into Brain Tumours” emphasised all this and more.
It revealed the distressing experiences of people whose lives had been affected by brain tumours.
It explored the reasons behind historic underfunding into brain tumour research by successive governments, and it highlighted that those governments had failed brain tumour patients and their families for decades.
The report made recommendations to the Government, which included the implementation of an early diagnosis strategy for GPs and clinicians. It suggested that MPs should use their influence to significantly increase funding for research into brain tumours and remove barriers so that the UK can become a leader in continuous and sustainable brain tumour research.
At Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry we are part of that drive towards international excellence and recognition in this line of research. I lead a team whose sole focus is to identify and understand the mechanism that underlies the development of brain tumours, and explore ways in which to halt or reverse that mechanism.
We are recognised as the leaders in Europe for our work around low grade brain tumours which typically affect younger people. We firmly believe that our work holds the key to better, more effective treatments for this type of brain tumour in the future.
Around 16,000 people a year are diagnosed with a brain tumour, and unlike many other cancers, the survival rate for brain tumours is increasing at a much, much slower rate – we are no further forward than we were in 1970 and, indeed, instances of brain tumours are more common now than they were then.
In the case of cancer of the brain and nervous system, there is clearly huge inequality between its effect on human health and the investment being made to counter that effect.
The situation is not entirely without relief thanks to charity Brain Tumour Research.
As its name suggests, the key remit for Brain Tumour Research is to raise funds for research into the condition. Brain Tumour Research works in collaboration with 20 member charities around the UK.
The work of Brain Tumour Research involves the establishment of and support for its Centres of Excellence, groundbreaking research hubs dedicated to working with the charity to enhance and progress research into all 120-plus types of brain tumour. The charity is on a mission to raise £7 million per year in order to establish and fund seven such dedicated Research Centres across the UK. Despite the advances in science and the growing opportunities for neurological investigation, with brain tumours having received just one per cent of the national cancer research spend – at this rate, it could take another 100 years to find a cure.
The first such Centre of Excellence was established at the University of Portsmouth. In 2014 the charity increased the number of centres to four by selecting through an international peer review The Blizard Institute in Queen Mary University of London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and ourselves, Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.
We not only work with the charity collaboratively on research, we also support it when it goes out to the world to ‘bang the drum’ for better funding and increased awareness and understanding.
It has taken an enormous amount of effort and persistence to get to the point when underfunding for research into brain tumours is discussed by our politicians. It will take yet more commitment and energy to drive the momentum forward to a point where we will begin to see a difference.
More information is available by visiting www.plymouth.ac.uk/campaign and www.braintumourresearch.org.