Brain Cancer research « Charlie Teo Foundation

The best brains can beat brain cancer.

“I could’ve walked away from the fight against brain cancer. But it’s not in me to give up. That’s why I started the Charlie Teo Foundation. I want to put myself out of a job” - Prof Charlie Teo AM, Neurosurgeon

Brain cancer facts

Around 1,600 people are diagnosed with brain cancer in Australia every year

Funding disruptive research

Great minds don’t think alike

Brain cancer is an incredibly complex problem. It is extremely difficult to pick winners.

At the Charlie Teo Foundation we are strategically taking more calculated risks, acknowledging that the best breakthroughs in science don’t come from being safe.

Our research strategy guides how we fund and what we fund. We take an agile approach, driven by key themes. These themes are developed by our Scientific Advisory Committee and approved by the Board. Each theme is reviewed regularly to decide whether we continue to explore it, or we shift focus.

This strategy allows for significant flexibility. We maintain an overall strategic framework, yet can change tack by adjusting the themes over time. This allows the Charlie Teo Foundation to experiment and prioritise whilst still managing risk. We believe this approach will pay dividends in the long run and result in real advancements in treatments for brain cancer.

Charlie Teo Foundation is now pursuing three key themes of More Data, Better Tools and Teo Fellowships: Empowering “Out of the Box” Thinkers.

More data

We believe in openness

Charlie Teo Foundation is working hard to break down silos in research and share data worldwide. You never know where the cure may come from. We want researchers to build on the work of others.

This theme helps to achieve those aims by encouraging open access publication of brain cancer research findings and making datasets from such research freely available wherever possible.

Better tools

Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world — Archimedes

We are lacking proper tools to assist researchers to understand brain cancer.

Like Archimedes’ famous quote, we are funding the tools to help our researchers find solutions and change the world. And we’ll share these tools far and wide.

Rather than continue to fund research “downstream”, we are directing more resources “upstream” by funding the discovery and development of tools to empower researchers and clinicians in their work. We allocate funding to the following:

Analytical tools

New software tools for analysing large and complex datasets associated with cancer to make it possible for researchers to harness big data in their work.

Methodological tools

New techniques to improve the quality and rigour of brain cancer research in order to make the outputs of biologic assays closer to studying the real disease.

Clinical tools

New ideas to solve problems in surgery and neuro-oncology, incubating them from concept through to prototyping, until they are able to transition to venture capital.

Our aim is to stack the odds in favour of finding a cure.

Teo fellowship


Empowering “Out of the Box” Thinkers

Charlie Teo Foundation is seeking out the most brilliant scientists from all around the world.

We will proactively seek grant recipients, rather than choosing them through an application process. Recipients of the Teo Fellowships will be provided with multi-year funding support. The Foundation will be funding the researcher, rather than any particular project.

We support and empower them to do what they do best – to pursue ambitious and unusual ideas that would otherwise go unfunded. When a cure is eventually developed, it will likely be as a result of “out of the box” thinking. This theme involves supporting those heterodox researchers who may otherwise be overlooked, enabling them to pursue their ideas for a period of time.

No politics, this is just pure science at its best.

Our research projects

Charlie Teo Foundation is pursuing the following brain cancer research projects.

“Charlie Teo Foundation brain tumour bank”

Theme: More Data

Charlie Teo Foundation is creating one of the largest brain tumour banks in the southern hemisphere.

Charlie asks his brain tumour patients for permission to store and use their tumour and blood sample for future medical research. He removes the tumour sample and the researcher collects it from him and takes it to the Charlie Teo Foundation Brain Tumour Bank.

By doing this, Charlie’s patients are helping us make a difference for current and future patients.

Charlie Teo Foundation is harnessing this resource for the benefit of researchers and patients worldwide.

“Single-cell RNA sequencing”

Theme: More Data

Charlie Teo Foundation is collaborating with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research on a world-first large-scale study right here in Sydney into Glioblastoma (GBM) brain tumours. GBM is a type of very aggressive brain tumour. The median survival time with glioblastoma is 15 to 16 months in people who get surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. Median means half of all patients with this tumour survive to this length of time. Everyone with glioblastoma is different. Some people don’t survive as long. Other people may survive up to five years or more, although it’s rare.

The research team is being led by two brilliant minds – Dr Michael Sughrue, an expert in adult brain tumours known for cutting edge advances in brain surgery; and the Head of the Garvan-Veizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics, Associate Professor Joseph Powell.

We really don’t know enough about GBMs. We have been trying to treat them with one drug. Recently work has shown us that a GBM can have as many as 100 or more types of cancer cells, which are genetically different and may interact with each other in complex ways. We simply don’t yet have enough data to even start tackling the problem.

We have brought a team of experts together to use an advanced single-cell RNA sequencing technique that has never been done before on this scale. Single cell RNA sequencing technique can be used to understand the behaviour of individual cancer cell in a heterogeneous tumour. Better understanding of GBM will lead us on the path to discover better treatments for this terrible disease.

“The ultimate weapon for tackling brain cancer”

Theme: Better Tools

Charlie Teo Foundation brought Dr Michael Sughrue to Australia to harness the power of big data to map the network of gene interactions in a GBM brain tumour.

We are using the technology that Facebook and Google use to study us but using it to cure brain cancer.

This is lean science done at a fast pace.

“Investigating the kynurenine pathways as a potential biomarker for predicting glioma patient prognosis and tumour grade”.

Activity of a metabolic pathway in cancer prevents the immune system from maintaining control over cancer growth. One metabolic pathway known to help the cancer avoid destruction from the immune system is tryptophan metabolism. This research aims to understand how this pathway disrupts the immune system and contributes to brain cancer aggressiveness. Understanding the role the pathway plays in promoting brain cancer growth could identify new treatment strategies for treating brain cancers. Utilising the pathway as a clinically useful tool may allow more accurate brain cancer diagnosis and better predict patient survival and tumour aggressiveness.

“Personalising the treatment plan for brain cancer patients”

Every brain cancer patient is different. Brain cancer affects children, adolescents, young and elderly patients. The treatment plan can not be the same for every patient. The proposal is to personalise the treatment regimes for every patient with brain cancer based on their own genomics.At the time of surgery, the tumour tissue is collected and grown i dishes. Some of the grown tissue is injected into mice. Having these models allows to screen drugs that may be suitable for the individual patient. Also, the tumour is sequenced to identify genes that are driving the tumour so that the effective treatments can we identified. With this plan, the survival of patients should be extended.