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Read about some of the key tools and skills involved in carrying out brain tumour research.
Our Neuro-Oncology Research Centre at the University of Wolverhampton has the biggest collection of short-term brain tumour cell cultures in the UK and probably the biggest collection of childhood brain tumour cultures in the world – more than 3,000.
A culture is a collection of living tumour cells, grown in the laboratory and fed with nutrients. Here, a researcher is maintaining the tumour cells to keep them healthy. That’s not ironic – it’s essential. We need to understand how chemotherapies work on healthy cells, so we need to protect these cultures from fungi and other infections that could harm them.
New chemotherapies can be tested on these cells. Because they have only been cultured in the short-term, the cells are more like the original tumour. This gives more reliable results than research with long-term cell cultures, where the cells can change over time and lose vital characteristics.
Researchers can also manipulate cells kept in culture at the genetic level, introducing or removing genes to see what effect the gene has on the cell growth and behaviour. The cell cultures are an invaluable living research resource.
Our genetic blueprint governs pretty much everything that makes us human. So when things go wrong, there’s a good chance that a dodgy gene is to blame. But a faulty gene is hard to find. There are about 25,000 genes in the human blueprint. They are sorted into 24 different structures called chromosomes, which in turn are written in three billion bits of code.
With your investment, spotting mistakes in this gene soup is getting easier. In the 1980s, it took 500 days to read a billion bits of code at vast cost. The equipment you’re financing in this lab is still expensive, but takes just half a day to read the same amount of code.
As a result, our researchers can compare normal brain tissue with tumour tissue more quickly, looking for the key differences that betray the location of a faulty gene.
This device can count out between 10,000 and a million live cells from this solution. Our researchers can test potential chemotherapies by putting the precise number of cells in test tubes and then counting out how many survive the treatment after washing away the dead ones.
Any one of many chemicals could be a new treatment for a brain tumour. This MTT test is one way of narrowing down the best candidates. MTT is a yellow dye and living cells turn it into a purple chemical called formazan. Very dark purple means all the cells are alive. Lighter purples mean the chemotherapy has killed off tumour cells. The colour is read by a special device to give an indication of how toxic the chemotherapy has been.
A clinical trial is a medical test or experiment on people including a new treatment or a new way of giving an existing treatment.
Most often the treatment is a drug, but it could be a medical procedure or investigation. The treatment will have been tested on animals or in the lab with positive results, before getting to the clinical trial stage. Read more about clinical trials.