‘The lack of funding is hugely frustrating’

CHECKS Professor Geoff Pilkington
CHECKS Professor Geoff Pilkington
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Professor Geoff Pilkington presides over a suite of laboratories as sterile and ordered as you’d expect.

Tucked away on the third floor of an unremarkable-looking building at the heart of the University of Portsmouth campus, there’s no reason to suspect that exciting things happen here.

But alongside the expensive pieces of equipment, there’s a very human reminder of what the UK’s first dedicated brain tumour research centre is all about.

Above microscopes that cost more than £100,000, there are pictures of people who have been touched by the killer disease.

Two of the labs are named after patients no longer around to see the vital work that is going on here.

And photos of people taking part in charity treks and bike rides hang from the walls.

These people are meant to spur on the team of research scientists – but the truth is that the work going on today can’t happen quick enough to benefit those who have just been diagnosed with the disease.

‘People with malignant tumours have a maximum survival period of between 12 and 14 months,’ says Prof Pilkington.

‘We’re doing a very poor job. We’re not making great progress. We need to do a lot more.’

Portsmouth’s research centre is one of seven dedicated facilities aiming to turn that around.

Headed-up by the charity Brain Tumour Research, each centre needs £1m a year to fund the work that aims to improve the outcomes for patients in the future.

The charity has already ploughed £500,000 into Portsmouth and plans to put more money in this year.

But the charity says brain tumour research receives less than one per cent of national cancer spending in the UK and has suffered set-backs because of that.

Prof Pilkington says the true extent of brain tumours has been underestimated for years.

According to government statistics, there are around 16,000 new cases of brain tumours in the UK each year.

But he points out that only primary tumours – those that start from the cells of the brain – are counted. Patients who go on to have a secondary tumour in the brain aren’t included in the statistics, along with those who have low-grade tumours.

‘We’re really looking at a figure I estimate to be around 40,000,’ says Prof Pilkington.

‘Brain tumours are under-recorded. There’s been a disproportionate research effort and that’s wrong.

‘We need to be doing something about these tumours.’

He believes that having seven centres working in the field of brain tumour research is a step in the right direction.

If a cure and better treatments are ever to be found, the UK will need to rely on scientists who have specialised in this field and Portsmouth’s research centre gives PhD students a chance to do that.

And as the current president of the British Neuro Oncology Society, Prof Pilkington says he will continue to lobby the government for more funding.

‘Over the past 30 years there’s been a huge improvement in leukaemia,’ he adds.

‘It’s been very effective and that’s great. We are really seriously on catch-up. Brain tumours have been seen as low--interest and there hasn’t been much research going on.

‘Without the brain tumour charities we would have no brain tumour research at all. This is the state that we’re in. It’s hugely frustrating.

‘There’s a lack of funding for something that desperately needs to be researched.

‘We are dealing with a very large group of diseases, most of which have a very poor outcome.

‘It is growing. It’s good but we still need more money and we need that money to come in regularly.’

THE WALL OF HOPE

The charity at the heart of the research centres wants businesses and individuals in Portsmouth to get behind the work going on in the city.

Last year Brain Tumour Research set up a wall of hope, giving sponsors the chance to donate the £2,740 needed to fund the centre’s work on a day-by-day basis.

Fundraising groups such as Ali’s Dream – the charity actress and University of Portsmouth chancellor Sheila Hancock supports due to her own grandson’s experience of having a tumour – have sponsored days.

But the wall of hope still has many blank spaces and more pledges are needed.

To be added to the wall of hope, contact Hugh Adams on 01296 733011 or e-mail Hugh@braintumourresearch.org