Cancer Research Wales has announced two new studies into brain cancers, funded thanks to the dedicated family, friends and community of Tom Walker, who died suddenly and unexpectedly of acute myeloid Leukaemia five years ago, aged 13.
Tom’s family established the Cancer Research Wales Tom Walker Fund in memory of Tom and to date have raised over £200,000 to fund groundbreaking research into devastating cancers, with a focus initially on Leukaemia.
With Glioblastomas being the most common form of brain cancer in Wales, around 100 new cases are diagnosed in Wales each year and yield very poor patient outcomes. Standard care is typically surgery and radiotherapy, with chemotherapy often not getting into the brain to reach the tumour. Outcomes for Glioblastoma are very poor, with a 5-year survival of around 15%, so new treatment options are desperately needed.
Thanks to the money raised by the Walker family and their inspirational community through walks, challenges and fundraising events including the incredibly successful Swim for Tom, research will now look into the exact biological affects that take place as brain tumours develop, with scientists exploring how they can test various new therapies to personalise clinicians’ approach to cancer treatment.
In response to the announcement of two new studies due to their vigorous fundraising, parents of Tom Walker, Debbie and Tim said:
“Supporting Cancer Research Wales actually came from Tom himself, as he decided to do the first Brecon Beacons Night Hike. Together, with our community of supporters, we’ve continued what he started.
We are absolutely delighted that Tom’s Fund is helping these two brain tumour research projects. We have several close friends whose families have been affected by brain tumours. This is for them.”
The two studies will include the development of ‘mini-brains’, that can replicate the true clinical setting. Mini-Brains are created in the lab using stem cells from taken from the blood of patients and contain all the architecture and cell types that are found in normal brains. These include neurons, fully functional specialised immune cells of the brain, and astrocytes, a brain cell type from which most common brain tumours arise.
Building on the success of the Cancer Research Wales Ed Evans Brain Tumour Scholarship – a foundation started by Ed Evans following his brain tumour diagnosis - which served as a catalyst to build a platform of brain tumour research in Wales, the mini brains will mirror the exact biological events that take place as brain tumours develop and grow, enabling clinicians to develop personalised treatments for patients with Glioblastoma. Complementing this research, a second study will explore specially engineered viruses to enable delivery of chemotherapy drugs directly into brain tumours, and enhancing the immune system’s response. It is hoped that the finished virus will be highly effective at treating Glioblastoma and can be taken towards clinical trials in future.
Kieran Harris, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Research Wales, said:
“Tim, Debbie and their daughters Holly and Emily have worked tirelessly in memory of Tom and created a lasting legacy.
“Incredibly, over £200k has so far been raised in memory of Tom and, with the approval of Tim and Debbie, we’ve recently invested in two new innovative brain tumour research projects. We would like to pay a huge tribute to the family and everyone who has supported them.
“The work of our fundraisers is motivated by cancers affecting families here in Wales, but we hope the research we fund will have a global impact on saving future lives.”
The Walk for Tom took place on Saturday 24th June.