Cancer therapies are by definition toxic. This toxicity affects not only peripheral organs such as the heart and kidneys, but also the nervous system. Symptoms of neurotoxicity include fatigue, pain and peripheral numbness, cognitive impairment (also known as “chemobrain”), and mood disorders.
The overall aim of the collaborative, complementary research studies performed within the Laboratory of Neuroimmunology is to increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of cancer therapy-induced neurotoxicities and develop novel interventions for preventing or alleviating neurotoxicities in patients treated for cancer. Our goals are to:
- unravel the mechanisms responsible for cancer treatment-related neurotoxicities
- identify novel targets for symptom-preventing and symptom-alleviating therapies
This is important because the neurotoxic side effects of cancer treatment greatly affect patient well-being and functioning and often lead to treatment dose reductions, treatment holds, and even treatment termination—thus potentially influencing patient survival.
We hypothesize that many of the symptoms experienced by patients with cancer are caused by a direct neurotoxic action of anti-cancer drugs that leads to mitochondrial damage and abnormal functioning of the brain and peripheral nervous system. In addition, tissue damage induced by cancer treatment or the tumor itself can lead to peripheral inflammation that may propagate to the central nervous system and contribute to fatigue, pain, cognitive deficits, and mood disturbance.
We develop novel interventions by testing mitochondrial protectants to prevent the neurotoxic consequences of cancer therapy. We also investigate the mechanisms and efficacy of neuroregenerative strategies based on mesenchymal stem cell treatment for cognitive impairment (chemobrain) induced by cancer treatment. We focus especially on the mechanisms of action, and we test not only the behavioral effects of interventions, but also the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the neurotoxic side effects of cancer treatment and protective or regenerative interventions.