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Brain tumours and brain injury to be focus of new Cambridge laboratories

A new suite of laboratories aimed at improving outcomes for patients with brain injuries and brain tumours has opened at the University of Cambridge.

ur newly refurbished laboratories will help us to better understand what is happening in response to brain injury, putting us in a better position to treat the patients and improve their long-term outcomes

Peter Hutchinson


The John Pickard Neurosurgical Laboratories, based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge University Hospitals, will contain purpose built modern laboratories and updated offices, and are named after John Pickard (pictured right), Professor Emeritus of Neurosurgery. Pickard was Cambridge’s first Professor of Neurosurgery, who was in post from 1991 until his retirement in 2013. The suite consists of laboratories dedicated to neurochemistry, and imaging and treating brain tumours.

“Injuries to the brain, either through trauma or diseases such as brain tumours, can have serious lasting effects on individuals, as well as for their families and carers,”
says Professor Peter Hutchinson, Head of Academic Neurosurgery at the University of Cambridge. “Our newly refurbished laboratories will help us to better understand what is happening in response to this damage, putting us in a better position to treat the patients and improve their long-term outcomes.”

The Neurochemistry Laboratory, led by Dr Keri Carpenter, aims to develop better ways of monitoring and treating brain injury by investigating how the brain responds to injury and how these responses can lead to long-term disabilities. Better treatments are needed to ensure the best outcome for each patient, and alleviate demands on carers, local authorities and NHS resources. The findings are potentially also relevant to diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s, which often manifest at a younger age in brain injury survivors.

The laboratories will be the leading unit in the UK to use microdialysis, which enables doctors to deliver molecules to and from the injured brain. This technology can be used to monitor, study and potentially treat specific areas of the brain. Researchers at the University have pioneered the use of non-radioactive ‘labels’ administered by microdialysis to track metabolism. Microdialysis is also used to support clinical trials of drugs given intravenously to establish how effectively the drug is able to cross the ‘blood-brain barrier’, transiting from the bloodstream into the brain.

Researchers from the laboratories will work in collaboration with colleagues at the newly-refurbished Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre in the development of advanced imaging techniques, as well as with colleagues in departments such as Chemistry, Clinical Neurosciences and Medicine, and across the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

The Brain Tumour Imaging Laboratory will be the UK’s first dedicated laboratory for analysing medical imaging of patients with brain tumours. It will use advanced imaging that can be performed on clinical scanners to understand disease-related changes in and around brain tumours – including how far these tumours spread, the effect and impact this spread has on the normal brain, and how treatments such as surgery and radiotherapy affect normal brain function. The laboratory will be led by Mr Stephen Price.

The Lisa Wiles Neurooncology Laboratory – named after a patient treated at Addenbrooke’s – will also be the first of its kind in the UK, and will be integrated with the operating rooms to collect and process tissue samples taken directly from cancer patients being operated on. Led by Mr Colin Watts, the team will use this new facility as a resource available to the whole of the Cambridge Cancer Centre community to support world-class research to improve our understanding of brain cancer and develop new therapies. This should enable faster, more precise diagnoses to improve the treatment of patients – including tailoring treatment to each individual patient.

“We’re very grateful to Professor Pickard and to Ms Wiles for helping us make these new laboratories a reality,” says Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Cambridge. “These facilities will perform an important role in helping make a real difference to the lives of patients with brain injuries.”

Professor John Pickard was the first chairman and clinical director of the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, a leading biomedical imaging centre housing both MRI and PET scanners. More recently he became the first Cambridge Health Technology Co-operative Honorary Director, which is one of eight national co-operatives that receive funding from the National Institute for Health Research. The Cambridge co-operative is the only one to focus on brain injury.

Posted on 23/11/2016

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