At the beginning of May, I was lucky enough to attend a 3-day conference highlighting the latest developments and research in the field of treating brain tumors. Throughout the 3-day conference, I attended sessions and lectures delivered by pioneers and global leaders of research into Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), one of the deadliest forms of brain tumors with a very poor prognosis, as well as taking part in engaging panel discussions about the future challenges in the field of Oncology.
On Day 1 of the conference, I attended a session titled: “Cellular and molecular drivers of Brain Tumours” whereby four eminent researchers each gave a session with their own unique perspective on what they deemed to be the drivers of brain tumors from an immunological, epigenetic, genetic and biochemical perspective. Most notably, Professor Jeremy Rich presented a research paper which demonstrated that a subset of glioblastoma cells shares characteristics with somatic neural stem cells and cancer stem cells which are resistant to radiation and highly angiogenic. The results from the Rich-Lab suggest that cancer stem cells are important determinants of the overall behavior of glioblastomas and that cancer stem cell-directed therapies may be effective in controlling glioblastoma growth. I was intrigued to learn more about how this research could translate into any therapeutic relevance and during the panel discussion I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Bevacizumab (Avastin), a vascular endothelial growth factor (V.E.G.F) neutralizing antibody, has demonstrated activity in clinical trials for GBM patients supporting potential utility of antiangiogenic therapies for brain tumors. The next presentation involved a discussion on how a better understanding of cancer as a disease may lead to the development of more efficient treatments and therapies from experimental data.
The discussion mainly revolved around transcriptional profiling of large tissue samples which lead to a better understanding of the heterogenic nature of tumors and the introduction of a selectively toxic Beta-Gboxin drug to the primary tissue tumor proved effective as large transcriptional differences were induced such as the expression of ATF4 proteins which are a stress response from cancerous cells. The challenge that faced researchers now was how to ensure that the Gboxin toxin crosses the Blood-Brain barrier to administer the drug to the correct primary tumor site location. A potential solution to this problem was addressed in a later session by Dr. Elga de Vries who proposed the use of functional ultrasounds to induce microbubbles that locally damage endothelial cells on the tumor site to deliver the drug or through using monoclonal antibody conjugated nanoparticles (COX26). The only problem with the latter solution was, of course, a question of the efficacy of small dosages being delivered to large primary tumors which have already metastasized.
On the second day of the conference, I had a chance to talk to researchers at the exhibition viewing
center, where many keen researchers presented their research. It was only then that I realized how interdisciplinary research has become after seeing how physicists and chemists worked alongside medical researchers to achieve truly remarkable accomplishments that positively propel and expand humanities scientific knowledge further. Strikingly, a group of chemists and medical researchers from the University of Oxford looked at using Raman spectroscopy for the early diagnosis of GBM tumors. This experience made me feel extremely proud to be a student at a specialist STEM college with a strong emphasis on the Sciences and Mathematics, as well as being taught these subjects in a harmonious and inter-disciplinary way, rather than individualistic manner.
It was a truly humbling experience and being the youngest attendee of the conference was a true honour and privilege that I will never forget. Witnessing and talking to professors who have dedicated their entire lives to research and towards better understanding and treating cancer has reinforced how rewarding a career in medical research can be. On reflection, attending this conference enabled me to gain an appreciation as to how science can be used to lift society and how research in the laboratory and clinical trials can translate into therapeutic drugs and treatments that save lives. It is estimated that 1 in 3 people will or have been affected by cancer at some point and therefore observing this revolution in the field of Oncology due to technological advancements is a true privilege and I hope that one day I can play even a small role in treating and advancing this field further.