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
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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. For the 15 years 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.
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.
Charles S. Cleeland, Ph.D. is the clinical research director for the Symptom Research department. He is the founder and initial chair of the department. He established the Pain Research group at the University of Wisconsin in 1979 and soon became an internationally recognized expert on the assessment and treatment of cancer pain. Cleeland and the Pain Research Group relocated to MD Anderson Cancer Center in 1996, and in March 2002 the Pain Research Group became the Department of Symptom Research.
Cleeland has devoted much of his career to observational, longitudinal and clinical studies of pain and other symptoms related to cancer and its treatment. He has published extensively on the development of pain and other symptoms and related biological mechanisms, particularly the role of inflammatory cytokines in treatment-related pain and fatigue.
Annemieke Kavelaars, Ph.D. is Director of the Neuroimmunology Laboratories within the Symptom Research department. With more than 20 years' experience as a researcher in the field of neuroimmunology, Kavelaars has developed a broad background in the field of brain, behavior, and immunity, working extensively with experimental animal models of pain in mice, including inflammatory and nerve damage models.
Kavelaars joined MD Anderson in 2012, when she and Drs. Cobi Heijnen and Robert Dantzer established the Neuroimmunology Laboratories as a new basic science lab within the Department of Symptom Research. The lab extends the department's ongoing descriptive research and intervention trials in patients with research based on animal models of pain, fatigue, neuropathy and cognitive impairment.
Department of Symptom Research
1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Unit 384
Houston, Texas 77030
(713) 794-5297 voice
(713) 745-8137 fax
MD Anderson Cancer Center Main Building
1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Suite B6.4527