We caught up with Dr Gray Kueberuwa, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Clinical and Experimental Immunotherapy Group, to hear a bit more about the project and what potential it could hold for children diagnosed with brain cancer.
This Friends of Rosie-funded research is being undertaken at the laboratories of the new, and very impressive, Manchester Cancer Research Centre building on the Christie campus in south Manchester.
First off, could you remind us of the aim of your research project?
Over the coming year, this study will look into the feasibility of using cells created by the body’s own immune system, called ‘Tumour Infiltrating Lymphocytes’ (TILs), to shrink or destroy brain tumours in children. TIL therapy is already being investigated in other cancer types but this research project focuses particularly on TILs found in types of childhood brain tumours that have a poor prognosis, such as those that don’t respond well to conventional treatments upon relapse.
Although brain tumours are the most common ‘solid’ cancers in children, accounting for over 20% of all childhood cancers, they are difficult to treat successfully and remain a leading cause of cancer-related death in children. If we are successful, this start-up project could have a dramatic effect on the treatment of childhood brain cancers in the future.
Why are you focusing on immunotherapy as a potential treatment for childhood brain tumours?
I wanted to choose an area of translational research with a proven track record. Put simply, the goal of translational research is to use lab research to get effective therapies to patients more quickly – translating science into lifesaving treatment.
The immunotherapy group that I am part of, at the Manchester Cancer Research Centre building, have already had two clinical trials – one in a similar field trialling genetically modified T-Cells against B-cell leukaemia’s; and the other testing the use of TIL therapy to treat melanoma.
We’ve also seen success in the US, where a group of researchers have used genetically modified T-Cells to treat children and adults with Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL) and have seen a 90% complete remission rate.
However, our research focuses on treating solid tumours in children, as they are often much harder to treat than cancers of the blood, like leukaemia.
Could you tell us how easy, or otherwise, it was to find funding for your project?
There’s a lot of competition in Manchester, and across the UK, for clinical research funding. I’d initially put together a proposal for a five-year study but struggled to secure a grant for that duration. In order to get a grant of that size, you often need some initial data and results in order to prove the viability of the project. That can be the hardest factor in getting a project off the ground.
Furthermore, as most cancer research funding is awarded by cancer type, it’s often more difficult to know who to approach for children’s cancer research. It’s not as straightforward as going to a breast cancer charity for breast cancer research for example, as children’s cancers are wide-ranging but require very different treatments to adult cancers to help minimise lifelong effects.
And that’s where Friends of Rosie came in. I heard about Friends of Rosie’s research grant through a colleague who suggested I could perhaps scale back my proposal to a one or two year study to enable me to obtain the initial research data required for a larger scale project further down the line.
I was delighted to be successful in securing this one-year grant with Friends of Rosie, which will get my project underway and help us to determine if it is possible to apply immunotherapy treatments to childhood brain cancers.
Finally, tell us a bit about you and your background
I studied a Masters in Biochemistry at The University of Oxford and conducted research as part of my degree. I originally focused on HIV research, but my then Tutor was working on cancer research and my focus turned towards oncology.
I then did my PhD in Oncology, researching the use of viruses to treat cancer, which is where my interest in immunotherapy first took hold. Following a one-year immunotherapy project at Oxford, I then made the move to Manchester where I’m now doing postdoctoral research in immunotherapy.
Gray’s research project epitomises the core philosophy of Friends of Rosie – to enable start-up children’s cancer research projects, in order that they may go on to attract larger scale funding, which could lead to a clinical trial that fundamentally improves treatment for children.
We look forward to keeping you updated on Gray’s progress over the coming months.