In Sue’s Name have set a target to raise £1 million by 2027 in order to provide crucial research funds to support the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Their success so far means that they have raised enough to “adopt” a PhD studentship, and are thrilled to welcome Myrianni Constantinou into her new role.
Myrianni is originally from Nicosia, Cyprus; a small beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea, hence her interests include swimming, dance, good food and travelling. She moved to the UK in September 2013 and obtained a BSc and MRes in Biomedical Science from the University of Portsmouth, with Distinction in both degrees. During her studies she developed an interest in currently incurable brain tumours such as glioblastoma and is delighted to have secured this PhD studentship at Barts and the London Medical School in the Marino Laboratory. Her long-term goal is to continue to pursue a career in neuro-oncology research and contribute to developing new therapies for these deadly tumours.
At the Brain Tumour Research Centre at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) the innovative team of researchers led by Professor Silvia Marino has set up a world first, in the form of a research pipeline that directly compares matched glioma initiating cells (GIC) and matched normal neural stem cells (NSC) samples. These cells have the ability to self-renew and grow: properties that are thought to make glioma tumours such as the highly aggressive glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) regrow and be resistant to treatment.
By comparing the two samples from each individual patient they can subtract irrelevant changes that affect either the genetic code/DNA (genetic changes) or affecting accessibility of the DNA (epigenetic changes). The remaining differences are therefore highlighted and give vital clues about which may be the key genes involved in GBM development and maintenance. This knowledge lays strong foundations for the team to find new or repurposed drugs that are effective against this incredibly challenging type of tumour, which is currently incurable.
As well as building an impressively strong team of researchers who specialise in basic science (discovering how brain tumours develop and behave), the QMUL Centre has also become a magnet for bright young clinical researchers whose expertise lies in developing such basic research into new treatment strategies. Together their complementary expertise and perspectives provide a translational platform for the findings, moving results from “bench to bedside” in the shortest possible time for the greatest benefit of patients.
All work projects at QMUL are linked to form a coherent GBM research programme and each researcher has multiple roles. This ensures that skills and knowledge are shared across the whole programme, with each researcher having the best possible opportunity to interact with others, building upon their own unique insights and experience for the benefit of the whole team.
Myrianni’s PhD project is focused on developing a robust 3D model system to identify and characterise functionally relevant “driver genes” that drive the development and behaviour of glioblastoma (GBM) brain tumours. These driver genes are identified using novel genome-wide screenings carried out by the Centre. She tests various methods to establish cerebral organoids, sometimes known as “mini-brains,” to facilitate the assessment of the role that specific target genes play in tumour progression and to test whether they can be influenced by new or repurposed drugs.
A 3D model can recapitulate to some extent the complexity of the normal brain, including the microenvironment that develops around a tumour, in a way that a standard 2D cell culture system cannot. Myrianni and the team are ideally placed to develop this model as a tool for personalised medicine because of the availability of matched glioblastoma and normal cells collected by the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
In future the research pipeline and 3D model, as well as other knowledge and experience gained from this adult GBM programme, should successfully inspire and inform research into other tumour types, both adult and paediatric, in laboratories across the world. At QMUL, there are already plans to begin new work projects into medulloblastoma, the most common high-grade brain tumour in children. Together, we will find a cure.