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University of Hull research project sparks hope for earlier brain tumour diagnosis

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Researchers at the University of Hull have embarked on a two-year project aiming to establish diagnostic markers of glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.

The research, funded by Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity (YBTC) and led by Dr Pedro Beltran-Alvarez, aims to improve the chances of earlier diagnosis in future through, for example, blood tests.

The research will use a unique miniature device called a “chip”, initially developed by Dr Pedro Beltran-Alvarez at the University of Hull and Dr Lucy Stead at the University of Leeds using YBTC funding.

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The “chip” enables small pieces of tumour to be kept “alive” for up to 8 days post-surgery by surrounding the tissue with a fluid which resembles blood.

Dr Pedro Beltran-Alvarez, University of Hull

In the new project, fluid which has been flown over the tissue will be collected and analysed to detect whether new molecules have been released into the “bloodstream” by the tumour.

In theory, these molecules will include “inflammatory markers” which indicate the presence of glioblastoma. Further research will be done to investigate whether these substances can be used as diagnostic markers of brain tumours, with the aim of eventually being able to spot early warning signs of brain cancer in, for example, regular blood tests.

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Currently, almost 100% of glioblastomas recur between six to nine months after treatment, leading to a dire average survival rate of just 15 months following diagnosis. Recognising markers of glioblastoma in tests which can be taken and processed rapidly may hold the key to earlier diagnosis, and therefore wider options for treatment.

The “chip” enables small pieces of tumour to be kept “alive” for up to 8 days post-surgery

Dr Pedro Beltran-Alvarez said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this award of £18,000 and we welcome the opportunity to be able to contribute to this meaningful research that YBTC is funding.

“This award consolidates the relationship between YBTC and the Brain Tumour Research Group at the University of Hull through the funding of a very original proposal which, if successful, could pave the way for research on early markers of brain tumours.”

This idea spurred from conversations with brain tumour patients, facilitated by YBTC. Patients and their relatives made it clear that what they would have liked is to have an earlier diagnosis.

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These inspiring conversations led us to design the current project and we are looking forward to the results of this YBTC-funded research.”

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Marie Peacock, CEO of Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity, commented: “We are delighted that the development of the tissue-on-chip technology at the University of Hull, funded by YBTC since 2020, is leading to further research that may enable the development of earlier diagnosis of glioblastoma.

“We know how important early diagnosis is to ensure the best possible outcome for patients and we are proud to support some of the great brain tumour research being undertaken across Yorkshire and the Humber region.”

Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity is Yorkshire’s leading brain tumour charity dedicated to raising funds for life changing research and patient support, and is currently funding pioneering research across Sheffield, Hull and Leeds.

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