Birmingham scientists reduce brain tumour diagnosis time to 10 minutes for children with cancer

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Thanks to new research, children with cancer could receive a precise diagnosis of their brain tumour in as little as 10 minutes.

A team of scientists at the University of Birmingham has successfully determined the unique chemical signature of each tumour type using MRI scans.

Medulloblastoma, the most prevalent type of brain cancer, has four distinct types, each requiring a different treatment approach.

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The hope of Cancer Research UK is that a faster diagnosis could enhance the prognosis for children affected by the disease.

Researchers analysed 86 tumour samples and employed lab tests to pinpoint chemical markers, akin to a genetic fingerprint, for each tumour type.

The study, published in eBiomedicine, revealed that it was feasible to identify the tumour type using AI-enhanced MRI scanners, eliminating the need for a biopsy.

This breakthrough could significantly cut down the current four-week waiting period for a complete diagnosis.

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The latest findings could be game changing for children like Jack Bourne, aged six, from Birmingham who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in March 2023.

Jack, pictured, has recently finished his treatment.Jack, pictured, has recently finished his treatment.
Jack, pictured, has recently finished his treatment. | NHS

Professor Andrew Peet, who spearheaded the study at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, stated: “We can cure some people with medulloblastoma, but not all. The sooner we can initiate the most effective treatment, the better their chances.”

Jack, a six-year-old from Kings Heath in Birmingham, has just wrapped up his treatment. He had a medulloblastoma, the size of a cricket ball, in his brain.

After a 10-hour surgery, it took an additional four weeks to determine the tumour type before a 13-month treatment regimen could commence.

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Jack’s mother, Suzanna, said: “I cried almost every day, either in the restroom or outside. I never let Jack see me. It was tough.”

His father, Tom, expressed their willingness to support the research in the hope that it benefits others.

“In Jack’s case, there was a significant delay while his tumour was sent to Great Ormond Street for analysis," he shared.

"But what you really want is for your child to receive the best possible treatment right from the outset.”

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Dr Laura Danielson, the research lead for children’s and young people at Cancer Research UK, said: “This discovery lays the groundwork for the creation of simple imaging tests that could swiftly and accurately diagnose the different types of medulloblastoma.

"This kind of breakthrough is crucial to develop new and improved methods to better detect and treat cancers affecting children and young people.”

Prof Peet is of the opinion that identifying the key chemicals for each type of brain tumour is the first step towards discovering new, targeted treatments for medulloblastoma, and potentially paving the way for personalised, less invasive treatments for children.

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