Research into brain tumours

Researchers in the UK are looking at better ways to diagnose and treat brain tumours. And managing treatment side effects.

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time for the results to be available. We have included ongoing research. This is to give examples of the type of research going on for brain tumours.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database to look at trials for brain and spinal cord tumours in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

Research looking at how brain tumours develop

Researchers are looking at how healthy brain cells develop. They hope this will help them understand how brain tumours develop and spread. And why sometimes treatment stops working. This research is still in the laboratory.

Researchers are also comparing the genes in brain tumour cells to normal brain cells. They have already found some common gene faults. And hope these might lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating brain tumours. 

Researchers are collecting blood and tissue samples from people with gliomas. They want to find out more about the individual make up of these tumours. This is called molecular or genetic profiling. The researchers hope this will help doctors use personalised medicine. Personalised medicine means that treatment is based on the genetic make up of your own cancer.

Research into tests to diagnose and monitor brain tumours

MRI scans

A team of doctors are looking into improving MRI scans to help diagnose brain tumours. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a common test. Doctors use it to diagnose and check how well treatment is working for people with brain tumours.

Researchers are looking into a new type of MRI scan called DTI (Diffusor Tension Imaging). They think that DTI MRI scans can give a more detailed picture of the brain than other types of MRI scans. 

Computer programmes

You usually have MRI scans after your treatment, to see if it has worked. It can be difficult for an MRI to show whether swelling of the brain is causing any symptoms. Or if the tumour is getting worse (progressing).

Researchers are testing a computer programme. They want to see if it can tell the difference between tumour progression and swelling. To do this they will look at your medical notes and use MRI scans after your treatment. 

Blood tests

Researchers are trying to develop a blood test to help diagnose brain tumours. They are developing a type of nanotechnology called Fluorescent Carbon Dots. This is still in the early stages of development. But they hope in the future it might help to diagnose brain tumours earlier. 

Research into treatment for brain tumours

Researchers are looking at how to improve treatment for brain tumours. This includes improving treatments we already use. And seeing if new treatments work better than those we already have.

Targeted drugs

Doctors are looking at a targeted drug called olaparib. Researchers are combining it with radiotherapy and chemotherapy for people with glioblastoma. Olaparib is a targeted drug called a cancer growth blocker. It blocks a protein called PARP that helps cancer cells to repair themselves.

Doctors are also looking at other types of targeted and immunotherapy drugs. These include:

  • ipilimumab with temozolomide, for people with glioblastoma
  • zanubrutinib for primary central nervous system lymphoma


Doctors are looking at radiotherapy for a type of brain tumour called meningioma. Meningiomas start in the layers of tissue (meninges) that cover the brain and the spinal cord.

Researchers are looking at radiotherapy after surgery. They want to know if this stops meningiomas from coming back. 

Doctors also want to improve how well radiotherapy works for glioblastoma. They are looking at a drug called AZD1390 that you have alongside radiotherapy. AZD1390 stops the cancer cells repairing themselves after radiotherapy. So it makes radiotherapy work better. 


Doctors sometimes use chemotherapy to treat brain tumours. They are looking at ways to improve how well chemotherapy works. Research includes:

  • combining temozolomide chemotherapy with a drug called Sativex
  • finding new ways to help chemotherapy drugs to get though the blood brain barrier


During surgery, the surgeon needs to identify normal brain tissue and tumour cells. But sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference. Surgeons use different tools to help them to see the tumour clearly, and to remove it.

They are researching new ways of looking at (imaging) the tumour before and during surgery. They want to see if new imaging techniques improve the outcome of surgery.

Researchers are looking at imaging techniques including:

  • an ultrasound scan during the surgery
  • diffusion tensor imaging before the operation 
  • hyperspectral and multispectral imaging 

Diffusion tensor imaging before the operation is similar to an MRI scan. It shows up the nerve fibres that control speech and movement.

Hyperspectral and multispectral imaging use a special camera system. It helps the surgeon tell the difference between tumour and normal brain tissue.


Vaccines help the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells. A trial looked at a vaccine called DCVax-L for people with glioblastomas. This trial is now closed. The results showed the vaccine was safe and alongside chemotherapy, it can help some people with glioblastoma live longer.

The vaccine isn’t widely available in the UK at the moment. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) and National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) need to review the vaccine before it is available on the NHS. It is difficult to know how long this will take.

DCVax-L is available privately in the UK. But there might be limited availability. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse if you want to know more about this. The Brain Tumour Charity have more information about the trial results and how you might be able to access this drug.

Tumour treating fields (TTF or Optune)

Researchers are looking at a device called Optune. This uses electrical fields to disrupt tumour cell division and cause tumour cells to die. It is also called Tumour Treating Fields (TTF). Research shows that TTF can help treat people with a brain tumour called glioblastoma. 

You use Optune together with standard treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy. You shave your head, and stick electronic devices (transducers) to your head using a sticky bandage. The transducers have wires which attach to a battery controlled device. You can carry this device around in a shoulder bag or backpack. You have to wear it for at least 18 hours a day.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) need to review Optune before it is available on the NHS. It is difficult to know how long this will take. Your specialist nurse or doctor can tell you more.

Research into the side effects and quality of life

Researchers are also looking into the side effects of treatment. And the quality of life for people with brain tumours.


BRIAN (the Brain tumouR Information and Analysis Network) is an app. It is a new way for those affected by a brain tumour to learn from each other’s experiences.

The Brain Tumour Charity created the app. It securely and anonymously stores data about:

  • people’s treatment
  • tumour types
  • experiences
  • side effects
  • decisions

The team behind BRIAN want to learn about what people living with a brain tumour have been through.

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