Plymouth University - Professor Oliver Hanemann
This research on schwannomas and meningiomas uses a unique human cell culture model using cells derived from surgical patients. This has led to the identification and testing of new, targeted therapies and the team have successfully translated their research into early clinical trials. This approach will allow them to screen approved drugs directly and go straight into clinical trials, avoiding pre-clinical animal trials.

Schwannomas and meningiomas are two types of tumours caused by mutations in the neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2/merlin) gene.  Currently the only treatment for these tumours is (radio) surgery which is only locally effective and can leave patients with significant morbidity. Drug treatments for these tumours are unavailable.

There is a great medical need to find new drug therapies, and at present mice are regularly used to investigate and test treatments of tumours caused by mutation in the NF2 gene. When used, transgenic mice are genetically altered to develop slow growing tumours deep within their bodies, and when nude mice (mice with suppressed immune systems) are used they are implanted with pieces of human tumour. Such experiments cause pain and suffering, and the animals are killed during or at the end of experiments to assess the tumour growth. Transgenic and control mice are also used to make animal cell cultures of tumours, a process which results in the death of the animals. In addition to the use of animals during the research procedures, there is real concern that data collected via mice models do not translate to the human disease.    

The Plymouth research team currently use a unique model of human cell culture derived from patients at surgery.  Results have led to the identification and testing of new targeted therapies and the team have successfully translated their research into early clinical trials. The next steps are to extend their in vitro cell model to meningiomas which have similar genetic background (merlin-deficiency) as schwannomas.  The team intend to combine their current technique with a new procedure to identify potential drug targets.  This approach will allow them to screen approved drugs directly and go straight into clinical trials, avoiding animal use.