Giving hope to people with brain cancer

Posted 24 Mar 2022

Often, by the time a person is diagnosed with brain cancer, it’s too late to cure them.

It’s typically only when the cancer has progressed to a stage that it causes physical symptoms, like blurred vision, slurred speech or a lack of balance, that a person seeks medical attention.

At this point of diagnosis, the average survival time is approximately one year.

Thanks to a $200,000 grant from funds raised through Tour de Cure’s 2021 SA Discovery Tour in partnership with Flinders Foundation, Professor Simon Conn is giving hope to people with brain cancer

“Brain cancer is one of the most devastating cancers that exists,” Prof Conn said.

“In the last 30 years, there has only been a one per cent improvement in survival. That’s despite advancements in new drugs, better detection methods, better treatment options and treatment combinations, and even better trained doctors.

“So, it’s not because of a lack of attention placed on brain cancer, but we believe there hasn’t been the right questions asked yet and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Prof Conn heads up a research laboratory at the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer, which is focused on brain cancer and, in particular, Glioblastoma – the most common form of brain cancer.

Inspired by the passing of a close friend and a family who tragically lost their two-year-old daughter to Glioblastoma, Prof Conn’s research is focused on earlier detection of brain cancer.

His team is studying novel molecules that have been identified as playing a role in the progression of cancer.

“Once brain cancer is there, it’s often too late. That’s why our approach to detect and diagnose brain cancer as early as possible, is really important,” Prof Conn said.

“We are looking at the therapeutic potential for these new molecules called circular RNAs, and we’re also using it as a biomarker for detecting this brain cancer as early as possible.”

Prof Conn’s team are in the early stages of developing a finger-prick test to detect molecules specific to brain tumours.

“It’s a little blood test where you take some blood and you can try and detect these molecules with a very sensitive detection method,” Prof Conn said.

“Even though you’re removing blood from the arm or the finger, these molecules specific to brain tumours can be detected. But the smaller the tumour, the harder these are to detect so that’s the challenge we’re working to overcome.”

Prof Conn attended the 2021 SA Discovery Tour dinner in the Barossa Valley with one of his daughters and was inspired by the dedication and passion of the riders and support staff.

“It was great that I was able to be able to speak about the work we do, meet these amazing people and thank them for their efforts. It’s an exceptional undertaking. For me, the most important part was to understand what motivates the riders as there aren’t many of us who aren’t touched by cancer in some way,” Prof Conn said.

“We thank all of the people who are involved, but also patients who donate their tissues for research. We’ve got a great arsenal to use against this disease. The more we learn about it, the better we’re going to get at beating it.”

Prof Conn’s important research would not have been possible without the support of Tour de Cure – the riders, support staff and members of the community who give generously.

“What Tour de Cure and Flinders Foundation do incredibly well is engage with the community, and really capture their passion for benefiting others,” Prof Conn said.

“Cancer affects people. It affects people’s families and communities. These are the people who are riding their bikes, making the donations and creating awareness. As scientists, we depend on these people to help focus our research and make it more impactful.

“I really hope, looking back on this research, that it’s something we can hold up and be proud of and it will pave the way for much better survival and, hopefully, lower incidences to begin with.

“Helping just one person would make all the difference, but this research has the capacity to be even more powerful than that.”


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