Promotion for neuro tumour scientist

Dr Sylwia Ammoun, an scientist specialising in tumours of the nervous system

Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD) has promoted Dr Sylwia Ammoun to the post of Senior Research Fellow.

Dr Ammoun specialises in tumours of the nervous system, especially those which affect children and young adults, and she is part of the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at PUPSMD.

Her area of work encompasses Merlin-deficient tumours of the nervous system such as schwannomas, meningiomas and ependymomas (Merlin is a protein that suppresses tumour growth). These tumours develop in patients with a hereditary predisposition to the tumour disease, neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), but may also develop spontaneously. Dr Ammoun is now expanding her research area into other group of tumours of the nervous system called low grade gliomas.

Current treatments available for NF2 tumours are surgery and/or radiosurgery and for low grade gliomas surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments are only partially effective, carry the risk of potentially unpleasant side effects and can cause biological changes in the tissue leading to either drug resistance or making tumours more aggressive.

Dr Ammoun and her colleagues are working on identifying drug therapies which may stop or reverse the progression of these tumours and which in time may replace the limited therapies currently in use.

Dr Ammoun gained her degree, MSc and PhD at Uppsala University in Sweden. She joined PUPSMD in 2006 from a post of PhD student and teaching assistant in the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University.

In her time at PUPSMD she has received grants from charities such as Action on Hearing Loss (loss of hearing can be a consequence of NF2), the Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust, the Northcott Devon Medical Foundation and Action Medical Research for Children.

Speaking of her promotion Dr Ammoun said: 

“I am delighted to have been made Senior Research Fellow in recognition of my work. Tumours of the nervous system can be immensely debilitating and at worst fatal, and the treatments available to patients are unpleasant and risky and only partially effective. Our hope is that by finding drugs which can target the molecular make-up of tumours and the mechanisms that turn a healthy cell into tumour, we can create therapies which can halt or reverse the progress of such tumours in a way which is more comfortable for the patient.”

About NF2

Merlin deficient tumours are caused by a genetic mutation, which is a permanent change in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. These tumours may develop spontaneously or as a part of a hereditary disease Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) where the genetic mutation is passed from a parent to their child.

Surgery or radiosurgery can be used to treat some tumours, although it carries a risk of causing problems, such as complete deafness and facial weakness and cannot be used when tumours are located in multiple sites of the nervous system, or in sites where resection would carry too great risk of fatal neurological complications. Therefore, the risks and potential benefits need to be carefully considered before treatment.

Most people with NF2 eventually develop significant hearing loss and often benefit from learning to lip read or using a hearing aid. Special implants can sometimes be inserted to improve a person's hearing.

NF2 tends to get worse over time, although the speed at which this happens can vary considerably. However, most people with NF2 eventually lose their hearing completely, and some people require a wheelchair or other type of mobility device.
Tumours developing inside the cranium and spinal cord can place a strain on the body and shorten life expectancy. However, improved techniques used to diagnose, monitor and treat the condition are thought to have increased life expectancy and improved the quality of life for many people with NF2.

About low grade gliomas

Gliomas are types of brain tumour and low grade gliomas (LGGs) account for about 30% of the total. Approximately 3,000 LGGs are diagnosed every year in the US and 150 cases of childhood LGGs in the UK. So far there is not cure for LGGs and current treatments can only extend overall and progression-free survival and decrease the risk of death. Although LGGs are linked with better survival rates compared to malignant gliomas, in some patients the tumour may result in death due to the size of the tumour or its location. Invasive surgery may also result in tumour-related epilepsy. Some LGGs may be more aggressive, develop resistance, recur or, in the worst cases, become malignant. The five-year survival rate for LGGs is between 58% and 72%, at 10 years it is 48% and at 20 years 22%.