Professor Valerie Brunton

Tackling a hard to treat brain tumour

Professor Valerie Brunton is chair of Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Edinburgh. Alongside Professor Margaret Frame, she’s been working to understand how cancer cells can corrupt certain molecules to help them grow and spread.

One such molecule, called FAK, is produced at high levels in some cancers. Together, Professors Brunton and Frame showed that FAK can affect the environment around the tumour, shielding the cancer from the body’s immune system.

Now, Professors Brunton and Frame are turning their attention to glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumour. They want to see if FAK, and other similar molecules, are also important in this type of cancer.

To do this they will compare glioblastoma stem cells, which help tumours grow, spread and resist treatment, with healthy stem cells in the brain. Healthy stem cells are vital to help the body repair itself throughout life, but in cancer these cells can become faulty and fuel the disease. By understanding the differences between molecules like FAK in cancer stem cells and healthy stem cells, Professors Brunton and Frame hope to identify potential new targets for drugs.

Glioblastoma is the most common type of brain tumour. But it’s also the most difficult to treat. Research like this is crucial to understand more about the disease and find new ways to tackle it, and ultimately change the outlook for people with glioblastoma.

Cancer biology

Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, University of Edinburgh