Dr Briony Gliddon
Why did you pursue your career in brain tumour research?
During my PhD at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital I studied a group of neurodegenerative disorders and was working on developing new therapies for these disorders. The real challenge with this was overcoming the blood-brain-barrier, a highly restrictive barrier which prevents most drugs from entering the brain. During this time, I became really captivated by the brain and understanding how it works, but even more so the challenge of delivering much needed therapeutics to a diseased brain.
As a post-doctoral researcher, I joined the laboratory of Professor Stuart Pitson at the Centre for Cancer Biology. His laboratory had recently identified a protein as an exciting new target for glioblastoma therapy. I began working on this, bringing to the lab my expertise and skills of the brain I had gained during my PhD studies. At the time, I knew very little about brain tumours, but quickly learnt that these tumours behave quite differently to other cancers and generally have a very poor prognosis. Most shockingly to me was that the poor survival rates for patients with brain tumours had remained unchanged for nearly 30 years! This really inspired me to forge my career in brain tumour research. It is vital that we learn more about the biology of brain tumours and find ways to beat the blood-brain-barrier so that we can give greater hope to patients with brain tumours.
Why are you passionate about this – was there something in your life that led you to this specific area?
Through my interactions with the Neurosurgical Research Foundation I have met so many wonderful people impacted by the devastation of brain tumours. A lot of these people, some patients and some family members of loved ones who have suffered from brain tumours, visit the laboratory regularly. Their stories, their passion for answers, their relentless desire to make the lives of future brain tumour sufferers better is what truly inspires me to go into the lab every day and perform my best. Each day in the lab spent researching brain tumours brings us one step closer to finding a cure and this gives hope to patients and their families.
What does International Women's Day mean to you and why?
For me International Women’s Day is important in promoting the achievements of women and in endorsing equality for all women. As a mother of a 10-year-old daughter, I’m hopeful that she will live in a world where gender is irrelevant and one where ‘the best person’ gets the job, the promotion, and is paid accordingly regardless of gender. Movements such as International Women’s Day are so important in realising this dream.
What are your hopes for the role of women in medical research?
Currently women out number men in biomedical research, but not at a senior level, which is still a male dominated area. My hopes are that this will change, and we see a much better gender balance in these senior positions, which will benefit all.
Current NRF-funded projects include:
Targeting Cyclin-dependent kinase 4 in glioblastoma
Glioblastoma is the most commonly diagnosed brain tumour in adults; it is a very aggressive and highly fatal cancer with a median survival of less than 15 months. The poor survival of patients affected by glioblastoma has remained virtually unchanged for the last 30 years. Currently treatment consists of surgical removal, post-operative radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Despite this aggressive therapy, the disease invariably progresses or recurs as resistance to chemotherapy drugs develops. For these reasons, the development of new drug targets and effective targeted therapies for this cancer are essential. Our recently funded NRF grant project aims to use an established clinically relevant mouse model of glioblastoma to test the efficacy of some newly developed drugs which have shown to be highly effective at killing glioblastoma cells by stopping them from dividing.
A new approach to deliver drugs to brain tumours
The blood-brain barrier is a major impediment to the treatment of brain tumours. Many drugs that may otherwise have potent anti-brain tumour properties, cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and thus are ineffectual as brain tumour therapeutics. This proposal builds on recent findings that FTY720, an approved drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, can cause short term opening of the blood-brain barrier. Thus, we propose to examine the potential re-purposing of FTY720 to allow the entry of existing anti-cancer drugs across the blood-brain barrier and into brain tumours. Successful outcomes will, therefore, provide new therapeutic strategies to treat brain tumours.