Cure Brain Cancer Foundation’s Research Vision

Michelle Stewart, Head of Research Strategy

I don’t think there has ever been a more exciting time to be working in brain cancer research. We have reached a tipping point and are on the brink of some revolutionary changes. The world is uniting to overcome the complex and systemic barriers holding back advances. Cure Brain Cancer is a key player in this global movement and we have developed a disruptive approach that will give patients early access to promising treatments, and have built a robust research model that is attractive and compelling to fund.


The last 30 years have seen some enormous scientific and technological advances; 3D printing, nanotechnology, cloning, the discovery of the Higgs Boson or so-called “God” particle, decoding the human genome, exploring Mars. And yet, treating brain cancer effectively remains a challenge and survival rates have hardly changed in these decades of great advancement. As President Obama said when launching the BRAIN mapping initiative in the US, “as humans, we can identify galaxies light years away… we can study particles smaller than an atom. But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”

Brain cancer is an insidious disease. Current treatments are undisputedly ineffective for most people. In an age of ever-advancing understanding about cancer and genetics, brain cancer continues to kill more children in Australia than any other disease. We feel that this is unacceptable.

The good news is that a lot of the groundwork to change this has already been done; in fact, there has been an explosion of understanding in brain cancer in recent years. We are heartened by the fact that there have been significant advances in basic science and the results of this are now being translated from the lab to the clinic. A new generation of brain cancer treatments are being investigated and tested which have great potential to improve outcomes for people living with brain cancer. But there is no “magic bullet” and there is still work to do.

We recognise that to solve a complex problem like brain cancer we need to do things differently; to think laterally and find smarter solutions that allow us to make breakthroughs much faster than traditional research methods allow. We aim to disrupt traditional and siloed practices, challenge the system and innovate to make this happen.

When I first started at Cure Brain Cancer Foundation the community was relatively disparate with seemingly no critical mass. Over the last few years I have seen this completely shift to a unified, focused movement that is gathering momentum across many sectors.

We believe that the best medicine is personalised medicine; the right treatment for the right patient. By taking a pan-cancer approach to treatments, we can repurpose drugs which are effective in other cancers to use on brain cancer, more quickly identify novel targets and use big data to connect molecular targets with existing clinical knowledge.

We know that patients report better health outcomes when they participate in clinical trials. We are working to bring quality clinical trials to Australia so that patients can access new treatments at the same time as they are available globally. This is a key part of our mission to increase survival, but it will also advance medical research by building Australia’s medical research infrastructure.

The time has already come and gone to put aside differences, share information and collaborate rather than compete. I am happy to say that this is now happening in brain cancer research. Forward-thinking collaborations such as the Brain Cancer Discovery Collaborative here in Australia, as well as international partnerships between research organisations and charities are speeding up progress. We need to work together to ensure this continues, building on our successes as well as learning from our mistakes.

We need to put patients at the centre of everything we do, empower them to advocate and influence the conversation about brain cancer. I have already met so many courageous people who speak out, donate, fundraise, volunteer and share their stories to raise awareness and funds, and some of them know they will not benefit; it will come too late for them. They are doing it for future generations, to give them a better chance.

These people deserve treatment options and better odds of surviving beyond five years than just 20%. They deserve to be heard and not marginalised, just because they have been diagnosed with a lower incidence cancer.

“There is no time for complacency, pessimism or procrastination. It’s time to put patients first.”

Michelle Stewart, Head of Research Strategy, Cure Brain Cancer