September 15, 2008

‘Chemo-Brain’ Preventable, WVU Study Suggests

By Eric Eyre

For years, cancer patients have complained about the memory loss and attention problems they experience while undergoing chemotherapy.

A new animal study from West Virginia University's School of Medicine suggests there may be a way to prevent those memory- related side effects - often called "chemo-brain."

WVU researchers have discovered that injections of a powerful antioxidant called N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, could stop memory loss caused by chemotherapy drugs, according to a study published in the September issue of the medical journal, Metabolic Brain Disease.

The WVU researchers exposed rats to two common chemotherapy drugs, Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide, during the study.

"When animals are treated with chemotherapy, they lose memory," said Gregory Konant, professor of neurobiology and anatomy at WVU. "When we add NAC during treatment, they don't lose memory."

As many as 40 percent of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy complain about symptoms such as severe memory and attention deficits, the researchers said. Patients said doctors didn't always take their complaints seriously.

In the past, scientists and doctors speculated that the cancer, not the chemotherapy drugs, might be the cause of patients' memory problems.

"There was a lot of ignorance among doctors about chemo-induced cognitive problems," said Jame Abraham, director of the breast cancer program at WVU's Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center.

Earlier this year, Abraham and fellow researchers used MRI scans to document changes in the brains of women who received chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Abraham said the recent research on using NAC - a modified form of the dietary amino acid cysteine - is promising, but more studies need to be done.

"At this point, we have no evidence to say that NAC is safe in patients who are getting chemotherapy," Abraham said.

The study was funded as part of a three-year, $275,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Reach Eric Eyre at [email protected] or 348-4869.

Originally published by Staff writer.

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