Boost for ‘amazing’ research which helped brave youngster fight off brain tumour
PUBLISHED: 18:14 19 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:14 19 June 2019
CANCER RESEARCH UK
The mum of a Suffolk teenager whose world was turned upside down by a childhood cancer diagnosis has shared her story of hope – as scientists are set to build on the research that saved his life.
Fresh out of college, with a good job at a local supermarket and an exciting trip to London booked for his 20th birthday, Charlie Williams is just like any other teenager - with his whole life ahead of him.
So it may come as a surprise to some that the 19-year-old from Boxford spent months in hospital as a child, battling a brain tumour that posed a serious threat to his life.
At just five years old, back in May 2005, Charlie was diagnosed with medulloblastoma.
He had months of treatment in Cambridge including a seven-hour operation, radiotherapy twice a day for five weeks and a year of chemotherapy.
Nearly 15 years on, Charlie still has to wear hearing aids and take tablets to keep his thyroid in check after the treatment took its toll on his body. But, aside from check-ups every six months, he is enjoying life as a "normal 19-year-old".
Now scientists are set to build on the research that saved his life, thanks to a £5.8million investment from Cancer Research UK.
His mum, Beverley, said the funding boost was "great news", and will "hopefully pave the way for better, kinder treatments for youngsters like Charlie".
She said the research wasn't at the forefront of her mind at the time of the diagnosis, but in hindsight it was "amazing".
"If it wasn't for that, we wouldn't have him today," she added.
"When he was diagnosed my whole world stopped. You can't think about losing them, you have to think positive all the time.
"Looking back, the research was amazing."
The tough course of treatment meant Charlie had to miss two years of education at Boxford Primary School, and suffered numerous setbacks, including meningitis.
But the brave youngster was determined to succeed - going on study IT at college, which he passed with distinction.
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Mrs Williams added: "Back in the day they said he would never do as well as other children because he had so much radiotherapy on his brain.
"He's doing so well. I can remember when he had his 18th birthday me and my husband said to friends and family: 'We could never foresee this day'."
As for his hearing loss, Mrs Williams said Charlie is "not phased by it at all".
The multi-million pound research project will be carried out by an international team based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, led by Professor Richard Gilbertson.
The team are hoping to gain a better understanding of what causes brain tumours to develop in children.
Professor Gilbertson said: "We're going to build the first functional map of the developing brain that will allow us to view all cells and in three dimensions, because if you understand what is normal, you have a better chance understanding what goes wrong in tumours.
"We will also be building these maps for the commonest brain tumours that occur in kids.
"Since we've not moved the needle in terms of new treatments of brain tumours in the last 50 years, much of what we have done so far must be wrong.
"Therefore, as well as advancing understanding of brain tumour biology, our international team will also develop completely new treatment approaches, not yet conceived of or tried in brain tumours."
He added: "All treatments we use for children's brain tumours at the moment have been extrapolated from treatments developed for adult cancers - and not even those in the brain.
"Our approach is to develop a new generation of treatments that grow out of an understanding of the biology of the developing brain and childhood brain tumours.
"We hope that this approach will unleash a new set of targets for children's brain tumours that will supplement current treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy."
Brain tumours are one of the hardest types of cancer to treat because not enough is known about what starts and drives the disease, and there are challenges with translating discoveries in the lab to treatments for patients.
Currently, the main treatment for children with brain tumours is surgery, or radiotherapy or chemotherapy if surgical removal of the tumour isn't possible. This means survival has barely improved over the last 40 years.
Reflecting on the funding boost, Mrs Williams added: "We're so proud of Charlie and hope in future that every family affected by a brain tumour gets a happy ending."
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