Red alert. This PET scan reveals a glioma, a particularly deadly type of brain tumor.

A Melding of the Minds

Frustrated by the sluggish pace of brain tumor research and the often dismal prognosis for those afflicted, eight brain tumor nonprofits in the United States and Canada are pooling up to $6 million total to finance risky, innovative research projects, potentially including mathematical modeling and studies of neural development and stem cells. The effort, announced today and called the Brain Tumor Funding Collaborative, is unusual in the disease advocacy world, where organizations in the same disease area are typically rivals competing aggressively for donations.

Roughly 41,000 people are diagnosed with brain tumors in the United States each year, and just under half of those tumors are malignant. Brain cancer research is notoriously difficult, in part because the blood-brain barrier prevents easy access and because there's no good rodent model, says Susan Fitzpatrick, a neuroscientist and vice president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, one of the participants. Two years ago, several foundations, including the McDonnell Foundation, tentatively began discussing how to fuel brain tumor research, in the hopes of spurring new treatments.

Each of the eight participants has pledged a certain amount (they decline to say how much), which will enable the collaborative to offer much larger individual grants--up to $600,000 per year--than each typically funds alone. They will begin accepting initial proposals in August and hope to announce the first awards in January. "We really want to break out of the traditional mold," says Susan Weiner, whose child died of a brain tumor. A cognitive psychologist and vice president for grants at the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation, Weiner notes that each of the eight groups had "to understand that you can't do it by yourself." Other participants include the American Brain Tumor Association, the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, the Brain Tumor Society, the Goldhirsh Foundation, the National Brain Tumor Foundation, and the Sontag Foundation.

"Since we know so little, taking risks is not such a bad thing," says Peter Black, chief of neurosurgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, referring to one common and deadly class of brain cancer, the gliomas. Now the collaborative just has to wait and hope that promising research proposals come its way.

Related site
Brain tumor information from NIH