Lord Dowding Fund for humane research


National Antivisection Society

LDF funds search for brain tumour genes

4 March 2011


Funding began in January this year, on a project which seeks to validate the possible role of a panel of genes implicated in cancer cell metastasis (spread) to the brain, using human in vitro systems.

Professor Geoffrey Pilkington and his team at Portsmouth University have developed a human in vitro model of the brain blood vessels ("blood-brain barrier") and will use this to investigate how certain genes may facilitate cancer cells from other parts of the body spreading to the brain.

This research programme constitutes a natural progression from the research supported in a previous grant from the Lord Dowding Fund for the development of a blood-brain barrier model system which will now be used in the current studies.

20-30% of cancers spread into the brain at some stage, thereby adversely affecting the prognosis for the patient. These brain “secondaries” are, due to their location within the brain and because they are numerous, difficult to treat and bring with them a reduced quality of life.

Unfortunately, the molecular basis for cancer metastasis to the brain is largely uncharted. In order to closely examine the cellular and molecular events which occur during this process the model developed by the researchers at Portsmouth University includes a number of essential elements. The in vitro “all human” 3D model of the blood-brain barrier is comprised of human endothelial cells (which surround the blood vessels), astrocytes (star-shaped support cells) and pericytes (cells which surround the endothelial cell layer) and basal laminae (a layer of protein which is produced by certain cells).

The team will study the interaction of metastatic cancer cells from cancers from different origins with this barrier and monitor dynamic events by physiological and live cell imaging methods. In addition the expression of specific proteins and genes postulated to play a role in this process will be studied.

It is the case that the study of various agents and drugs across the blood-brain barrier is mainly studied in rodents in many laboratories. Similarly, previous blood-brain barrier in vitro models have invariably used cells sourced from non human animals.

The current project therefore represents a great leap forward in the study of mechanisms of brain tumours metastasise which will not only contribute to an end to animal suffering, but which also represents a real opportunity to make discoveries which benefit human health.

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