Potential treatment for 'chemobrain' discovered
Australian researchers have found a potential treatment for ‘chemobrain’ — a cognitive-impairment condition that affects up to 60% of women after receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. Symptoms include memory, learning and concentration difficulties, making it a frustrating experience for many of the 68,824 Australians living with breast cancer.
Study leader Dr Adam Walker, from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), explained that scientists have previously believed that chemotherapy was the only cause of chemobrain. “However,” he said, “studies have observed cognitive impairment in cancer patients prior to treatment.
“This suggests the cancer alone may be sufficient to induce cognitive impairment, but the mechanisms through which this occurs are unknown.”
Using animal models, Dr Walker targeted tumour-to-brain communication and found that breast cancer cells released inflammatory markers that cause inflammation in the brain. He found that a low dose of anti-inflammatories completely blocked breast cancer cells from causing memory loss without affecting other aspects of the disease.
“This suggests that the tumour itself can actually hijack the brain via inflammation to cause cognitive impairment, but that we can use anti-inflammatories to block this process.”
Dr Walker noted that interventions to treat cancer-induced cognitive impairment have typically focused on behavioural therapies such as brain training, which don’t tap into the biological processes of tumour-to-brain communication.
“This is the first study to show that we can potentially disrupt that communication using anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin to reduce the inflammation that causes cognitive impairment,” he said.
With his research now published in the journal PLOS ONE, the next phase of Dr Walker’s work is to look at how anti-inflammatories might block other aspects of chemobrain, such as learning and concentration difficulties, followed by clinical trials.
“We think anti-inflammatory drugs could be a potentially cheap and safe intervention to prevent and treat chemobrain, but we need to learn more about who should take them and when during the cancer journey,” he said.
NeuRA CEO Professor Peter Schofield said Dr Walker’s work has the potential to transform how cancer patients view and manage their treatment, calling it “a new frontier for neuroscience in cancer research”.
“Our ultimate goal is to eradicate the negative side effects of cancer treatment, so that quality versus quantity of life decisions no longer need to be made,” Prof Schofield said.
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