The Dark Side of Cancer Treatment:
Over 250,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year; 1 in 8 women will get the disease at some point during her life. Chemotherapy can be a lifesaving treatment for breast cancer, but these drugs have significant side effects, including chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), which causes numbness and pain in the feet and legs, and difficulty walking. CIPN is a common cause for reduced quality of life among cancer survivors and one of the most common reasons patients have to stop taking their chemotherapy, which could reduce the effectiveness of treatment.
What we Know:
The chemotherapy drug, paclitaxel, works by stabilizing microtubules, which prevents cancer cells from dividing. The problem is, about 40% of patients given paclitaxel develop CIPN, and we don’t fully understand why. One potential mechanism is damage to the mitochondria, the energy producing part of cells. If we could figure out how this drug causes CIPN, we would be one step closer to developing an effective treatment to prevent disability and allow patients to continue to get the treatment they need.
Our Plan to Help:
A team led by Drs Gordon Smith, Kelsey Juster-Switlyk and Summer Karafiath at the University of Utah will study 20 breast cancer patients before and after they start taking paclitaxel. Various aspects of nerve function will be measured to look for evidence of CIPN. Then, using a skin biopsy from the patients, Dr. Smith’s team of scientists will study the mitochondria in nerve and skin cells to determine if there is evidence of mitochondrial damage preceding nerve damage.
How You Can Help:
By donating to Dr. Smith’s research you are directly contributing to his efforts to find the cause of CIPN in breast cancer patients treated with paclitaxel. Dr. Smith’s work may help scientists develop treatments to prevent CIPN, which would increase quality of life and potentially improve survival in these patients.