MD Anderson's Department of Symptom Research is at the forefront of discovering new ways of identifying the symptoms and neurotoxicities associated with cancer and its treatment, the mechanisms underlying such symptoms and toxicities, and interventions that might reduce symptom severity or prevent symptom occurrence altogether. Our translational research program integrates preclinical, translational, and clinical research projects that range from bedside to bench and bench to bedside.
We aim to increase the tolerability of cancer therapies and to reduce the negative impact of treatment-related symptoms for cancer survivors. Through interdisciplinary preclinical, translational, and clinical research, we strive to:
- Discover underlying mechanisms of neurotoxicities, including pain, fatigue, and cognitive impairment, that result from cancer and its treatment
- Enhance the identification of the prevalence, severity, and treatment of symptoms via patient-reported outcomes, and to promote this effort nationally and internationally
- Improve the management of pain, fatigue, and other symptoms experienced by patients with cancer through evidence-based clinical trials
Cobi J. Heijnen, Ph.D. is the chair of the Symptom Research department. Heijnen joined our faculty as a Professor in 2012. She is one of five Principal Investigators leading the department's Neuroimmunology Laboratories, along with Annemieke Kavelaars, Ph.D.; Robert Dantzer, D.V.M., Ph.D; Andrew J. Shepherd, Ph.D.; and Peter Grace, Ph.D. Prior to joining MD Anderson, Heijnen served as Professor of Neuroimmunology and Chair of the Psychoneuroimmunology department at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Dr. Heijnen is one of the founding scientists of the field of psychoneuroimmunology. Her research focuses on cellular and molecular mechanisms of neuronal damage, rodent cognition and motoric behavior and therapeutic targets as neuroprotectants. Her more recent work seeks to understand the mechanisms and treatment of cancer-related stress, pain, fatigue and chemotherapy-induced cognitive deficits. She and her team have demonstrated that nasal application of mesenchymal stem cells repairs brain damage and can reverse existing chemobrain. On the prevention front, she has demonstrated that mitochondrial protectants prevent chemobrain and that pifithrin-µ and metformin can help prevent chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.
Christopher J. Sidey-Gibbons, Ph.D. serves as Deputy Chair of the Symptom Research Department. He is an Associate Professor and leads the MD Anderson INSPiRED Cancer Care initiative (Innovative Solutions for Patient-Reported Data): an international collaboration between academics and clinicians focused on making
patient-centered data easier to use and more useful for clinical practice and
Prior to joining MD Anderson, Dr. Sidey-Gibbons was Co-Director of the Patient-Reported Outcomes, Value, and Experience Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Prior to that, he was Director of Health Assessment and Innovation at The University of Cambridge Psychometrics Center and a Research Associate at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Dr. Sidey-Gibbons' work is broadly focused on improving cancer care by generating and communicating insights from patient data. Within this broad field, his work and the work of INSPiRED, focuses on the development and evaluation of novel tools to asses, analyze and predict patient outcomes using modern psychometrics and machine learning techniques
Robert Dantzer, DVM, Ph.D. founded the Neuroimmunology Laboratory as a new basic science lab within the Department of Symptom Research along with Drs. Annemieke Kavelaars and Cobi Heijnen. Dr. Dantzer has always been intrigued by the distinction between physiology (the normal) and pathology (the abnormal) and the theories that account for transitioning from one state to the other in medicine. In 1967, he joined the newly established Laboratory of Veterinary Pharmacology in Toulouse, France, where he developed medical interventions for prevention and treatment of stress in farm animals. This work motivated his scientific investment in the psychobiology of stress and the field of psychoneuroimmonology, still-nascent disciplines in the 1960s.
Peter Grace, Ph.D. obtained his PhD at the University of Adelaide, Austrailia and joined the faculty as a tenure-track assistant professor in 2016. The goal of his research laboratory is to understand the neuroimmune mechanisms of chronic pain and its control. His current work is investigating the adaptive immune mechanisms that initiate and maintain neuropathic pain after traumatic nerve injury. His team is also delineating the analgesic mechanisms and therapeutic potential of the ‘master regulator’ of the antioxidant response Nrf2. He has shown that the Nrf2 activator dimethyl fumarate relieves neuropathic pain, with ongoing work to advance this drug class for clinical treatment of chronic pain.
Annemieke Kavelaars, Ph.D. has more than 25 years of experience as a researcher in the field of neuroimmunology resulting in a broad background in the field of brain, behavior and immunity. She uses aims at understanding the mechanisms underlying the development of chronic pain. Her studies in this area focus on the role of the immune system in pain resolution. She also investigates novel ways to prevent or treat pain caused by chemotherapy. Dr. Kavelaars joined MD Anderson in 2012, when she and Cobi Heijnen and Robert Dantzer established the Neuroimmunology Laboratories as a new basic science lab within the Department of Symptom Research.
Andrew Shepherd, Ph.D. engages in pre-clinical research to elucidate the mechanisms that link inflammation to pain induced by various forms of injury, including joint damage and chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, with a particular focus on signaling related to the renin-angiotensin system. The ultimate goal of this research is to identify interventions that can mitigate or prevent the development of pain associated with these chronic disease states.
Symptom Assessment Questionnaires
The Symptom Research department designs and licenses the PRO-based assessment questionnaires to measure the symptoms experienced by cancer patients, to determine their severity and how they affect quality of life. Click here to explore the Symptom Assessment Questionnaires catalog.
Department of Symptom Research
1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Unit 1055
Houston, Texas 77030
(713) 794-5297 voice
(713) 745-8137 fax
MD Anderson Cancer Center Zayed Building
1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Suite Z8.5000
Houston, TX 77030