Research into brain tumours

Researchers in the UK are looking at better ways to diagnose and treat brain tumours and manage 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 to give an example of the type of research being carried out in brain tumours.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial 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 into the diagnosis

A team of doctors are looking into improving MRI scans to help diagnose brain tumours. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a common test 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. 

Doctors are also looking into combining PET scans and MRI scans to better assess brain tumours. PET stands for Position Emission Tomography. It is a type of scan that creates 3 dimensional pictures of the inside of your body. Researchers want to find out if the combination of an MRI scan and PET scan gives more detailed information about brain tumours. 

Research looking at how brain tumours develops

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.

In the future, scientists hope to create new treatments that help more people survive this disease.

Researchers are also looking into the differences between the genes in brain tumour cells and 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. 

Research into treatment

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

Targeted drugs

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

Researchers want to find out how well olaparib works for people who:

  • are newly diagnosed
  • have recently had surgery
  • cannot have standard treatment because they are over the age of 70 or have poor health

Doctors are also looking at a type of targeted drug called ipilimumab with temozolomide for people with glioblastoma. Ipilimumab is a type of targeted drug called a monoclonal antibody. It works by stimulating certain immune cells called T cells to find and attack the cancer. 

Researchers want to find out how well ipilimumab works for people who have had surgery, followed by radiotherapy and temozolomide.


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

Researchers want to find out if radiotherapy after surgery stops meningiomas from coming back. 

Doctors are also looking for ways to improve how radiotherapy works for people with 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. 

Improving treatment with palladium

A team is studying the potential of putting a palladium implant into the brain during surgery. Palladium is a type of metal. Researchers think that this might help target chemotherapy to the brain tumour.

This is early stage research in the laboratory. But doctors hope that in the future people might be able to have higher doses of chemotherapy with less side effects.


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, and the results showed the vaccine was safe. Because enough people had a good response, researchers think the vaccine should be developed further. 

Research into the side effects and quality of life

As well as looking at how well treatments work, 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 a new way for those affected by a brain tumour to learn from each other’s experiences.

It is an app created by the Brain Tumour Charity. It securely and anonymously stores data about people’s treatment, tumour types, experiences, side effects and decisions. The team behind BRIAN want to learn about what people living with a brain tumour have been through.

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