New research could mean tailored treatment for children with brain tumours | Action Medical Research

New research could mean tailored treatment for children with brain tumours

15 January 2014

Children’s charity Action Medical Research and The Brain Tumour Charity today announce a new jointly funded project to develop a way to tailor treatment more closely to the needs of each individual child diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Every year in the UK, around 400 children aged 0-14 are diagnosed with a brain tumour.1-2 Many face prolonged and gruelling treatment with surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. While treatment can prove life-saving, it can also cause serious, long-term side effects, so it’s important to get the balance right. [See case study below]

The new research project is being led by Professor Andrew Peet, of the University of Birmingham. He believes this could save the lives of children with the most aggressive tumours and spare those with less severe illness from unnecessary treatments.

“A diagnosis of a brain tumour is devastating – not just for the child himself, or herself, but for the whole family,” explains Professor Peet. “Going through treatment is really tough. It completely changes children’s lives over months or even years.”

Sadly, around one in every four children diagnosed with a brain tumour lose their lives within five years,3 making brain tumours the most deadly of all childhood cancers.4

“Children who make it through treatment remain at risk of experiencing long-term problems,” continues Professor Peet. “They can have difficulties with movement, balance and coordination, and with learning, hearing and vision, for example. This can be due to pre-existing problems and the tumour itself – but it can also be a side effect of treatment.”

With so much at stake, there is a need to ensure all children with brain tumours get the best possible treatment and information5 for them and their families.

“Children with a brain tumour have MRI scans routinely when they are first diagnosed,” explains Professor Peet. “The scans provide highly detailed pictures of tumours inside the brain. We are developing a way to get even more from MRI scans, using a sophisticated technique that provides information on the chemical make-up of tumours. We believe this information could be of great value, because it could enable us to predict how aggressive each child’s tumour is likely to be much sooner and more accurately.”

It is hoped that, as a result, children with the most aggressive tumours could immediately be given the most intensive treatment, which could boost their chances of survival. Children whose tumours are not so life-threatening could be given less intensive treatment, sparing them from some of the lifelong disabilities that treatment can cause.

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Case study: Iona Atkins (Solihull, West Midlands)
Iona was just five when she was diagnosed with a craniopharyngioma brain tumour. She went through ten hours of surgery which left her with some brain damage and without the ability to produce important hormones.

Sadly, the tumour grew back a year later and Iona went on to endure a six week course of daily radiotherapy. She lost large patches of hair, had extreme tiredness and suffered radiation burns.

Now 11, Iona has just started secondary school, however, every six months Iona has a scan to monitor her brain tumour, which started growing again in 2011. 

Iona’s mum, Ann, said: “Iona has been through so much treatment which has left her with long-term learning difficulties including perception and memory problems.  If more can be done to tailor treatments it could mean some children receive less treatment, reducing the risk of these long-term side effects.  We were pleased to hear about the partnership between The Brain Tumour Charity and Action Medical Research to fund this vital research, which could help more families like us in future.”

A high-res picture of Iona can be downloaded from the link below:


1. Macmillan. Brain tumours in children. Website accessed 16 October 2013.

2. Cancer Research UK. Brain tumour risks and causes. accessed 16 October 2013.

3. Medline Plus, Brain tumour – children Website accessed 16 October 2013.

4. Childhood cancer mortality statistics. Website accessed 8 November 2013.

5. The Brain Tumour Charity: Information about living with childhood brain tumours, their diagnosis and treatment. Website accessed 27 November 2013.

For further information please contact:

Toni Slater, Communications Manager
T: 01403 327478

Action Medical Research is a UK-wide charity saving and changing children’s lives through medical research. We want to make a difference in:

  • tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
  • helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
  • targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world.

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The Brain Tumour Charity is the pre-eminent charity in its field, is the only national charity that is fighting brain tumours on all fronts – investing in research, providing support and information and raising awareness.  Each year they invest in world-class research covering both laboratory and clinical research in leading institutions across the UK.

The Brain Tumour Charity offers a comprehensive support and information service for anyone who is affected, from a Support & Info Line and support groups to Information Standard accredited fact sheets and family days.

They fund and promote the UK-wide HeadSmart campaign, raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people to make earlier diagnosis a reality to save lives and reduce long-term disabilities.

Find out more at:

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