Coffee with… Professor Steven Gill
Business Now’s editor learns about the pioneering work of Funding Neuro…
I’m delighted and deeply humbled to have shared coffee and a chat with a professor you may not be very familiar with, but who is changing the face of neurological disease: Professor Steven Gill.
Professor Gill’s Functional Neurosurgery Research Group has extensive pre-clinical and clinical convection-enhanced delivery (CED) research experience and has successfully completed a number of studies which have led directly to clinical trials. This group has unique and world-leading CED catheter technology, which is currently being used to treat patients with a range of neurological disorders – including adults and children with malignant brain tumours and Parkinson’s disease.
You may have watched Professor Gill in the BBC documentary, The Parkinson’s Drug Trial: A Miracle Cure, back in February this year. Filmed over six years, it follows a group of volunteers with Parkinson’s as they take part in a groundbreaking medical trial testing a drug called GDNF (glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor).
He is also heavily involved with Funding Neuro who seek out medical professionals that are developing new technology and innovative research.
So, perhaps a rather obvious question for Professor Gill:
“I'm rather ashamed to say I'm very naïve about the function of Funding Neuro. Could you enlighten me please?”
“Funding Neuro is a medical research charity that funds research into neurological diseases. Their aim is to accelerate the development of new treatments for many of the most serious neurological conditions. They do not focus on one disease; instead, they identify the issues that hinder progress and find solutions so that research and innovative therapies can be accelerated.
“Neurological diseases – including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain tumours and so on – are generally incurable and are a major cause of disability worldwide, affecting tens of millions of people. One of the main reasons why we have been unsuccessful in treating neurological disease is that a natural barrier exists between blood vessels and the brain to prevent toxins getting into the brain; but this barrier – the blood-brain barrier – also stops many drugs that could be effective from getting to their brain targets.
“My research focuses on developing novel methods of delivering therapies directly to structures in the brain that are affected by disease and this is the work that Funding Neuro have generously supported over a number of years.”
“Would you let our readers know what projects you been working on?”
“I have worked with the company Renishaw to develop a drug delivery system in which tiny catheters are implanted to deep brain structures with sub-millimetre accuracy using a surgical robot. These are connected to a port that emerges through the skin behind the ear. At any time in the patient’s lifetime, drugs can be delivered directly to targets in the brain by attaching a device to the port that connects each catheter to a pump containing the drug. This can be used to treat a whole range of neurological diseases.
“With the help of Funding Neuro, the Cure Parkinson’s Trust and PD UK*, I have recently completed a trial using the drug delivery system to deliver a nerve growth factor called GDNF every month into patients with Parkinson’s disease.
“Unlike most drugs which treat the symptoms of disease, GDNF has the potential to restore the health and function of the dopamine neurons that die in the disease. Indeed, we were able to demonstrate that we achieved this on scans and, after 18 months of treatment, when one would have expected a progressive decline in patients’ mobility and function, we showed meaningful improvement.
“This trial was followed by the BBC and recently aired (The Parkinson’s drug trial: A miracle cure?). We are now taking this forward to the final trial that is required before it can become what will hopefully be the first treatment that reverses the disease. Fingers crossed!
“Funding Neuro has also been supporting my work in developing novel treatments for children with brain tumours. Brain tumours are now the greatest cause of cancer death in children** and one of the worst types that they can get as it is one that involves the brainstem. This is called DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma).
“By using the delivery system to infuse chemotherapy directly into the brainstem tumours, it means that effective doses can reach into the tumour without entering into the general circulation to cause side effects. This is because the blood-brain barrier now works to keep the therapy in the brain.
“This is a great step forward in treating this disease and we have, on average, now doubled the expected survival of the children that we have treated so far. We are now starting a formal clinical trial in 18 children, for which the funds have been raised by Funding Neuro and the Lyla Nsouli Foundation.
“A further area that I am working on, this time supported by Funding Neuro and the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, is developing novel treatments for motor neurone disease (MND). The challenge here is to deliver therapies directly to the motor neurones throughout the spinal cord. We have made a significant breakthrough in achieving this in the lab and are now working towards bringing this therapy into clinical trials at the earliest opportunity.”
“How can businesses and the general public get involved?”
“There are a number of opportunities both for fundraising and volunteering. Funding Neuro offer innovative and novel partnerships to maximise the potential for both businesses and individuals. You can contact email@example.com for more information on how to get involved. We’d be extremely grateful!”
“At a local level, are there any events or activities our Aberdeen readers can get involved in?”
“Funding Neuro are holding Aberdeen’s first-ever soapbox car challenge in spring 2020. For more information, keep an eye on the website: www.fundingneuro.com For sponsorship opportunities please contact George Walker on: firstname.lastname@example.org”
Grateful for spending some time with this intriguing professor, I drained my coffee and we parted – me to continue writing, he to continue saving lives!!
* PD UK is short for Parkinson’s UK