Researchers Receive Grant to Initiate Study of ‘Chemo Brain’ in Pediatric Patients

September 2, 2020

This study is intended to “investigate how chemotherapy disrupts sensory processing, memory, and attention in children; where in the brain the damage is occurring; and whether there is a biomarker that can identify those who are most vulnerable.”

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Children's Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM), and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey have received a five-year, $4.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine how chemotherapy specifically damages the brain in pediatric patients.

The long-term objective of this study is to use the research to develop protective interventions that could prevent permanent harm.

"While the phenomenon of 'chemo brain' is widely acknowledged, we don't know enough about how it affects children's brain development—and how significant and long-lasting the effects are," lead investigator Elyse Sussman, PhD, professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and of otorhinolaryngology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said in a press release. "Our study will investigate how chemotherapy disrupts sensory processing, memory, and attention in children; where in the brain the damage is occurring; and whether there is a biomarker that can identify those who are most vulnerable. This is the first study of its kind to look at these details of cognition, brain development, and changes over time."

At Rutgers, the study will be led by Peter Cole, MD, chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology in the Hugs for Brady Foundation Pediatric Cancer Research Lab. Previously, Cole found that chemotherapy results in overstimulation of certain brain receptors in an animal model, and has since identified ways to block these receptors, protecting against the damage caused by chemotherapy.

The new study will include 240 children between the ages of 5 to 12 years old at Children's Hospital at Montefiore and the Rutgers Cancer Institute. Children will be eligible if they have been finished with treatments for 12 months or more.

Researchers will study electrical activity in the brains of study participants during hearing tests and other cognitive assessments. These results will then be merged with functional magnetic resonance imaging aimed at showing the exact locations of brain activity during attention, memory, and sensory processing tests. A year later, the tests will be repeated.

Ultimately, the investigators hope to establish abnormal patterns of neuroconnectivity and determine how cognitive skills are affected in children who have received chemotherapy.

"Children are susceptible to the damaging effects of cancer therapy because their brains continue to go through stages of structural change and development until young adulthood,” Cole, who is also the Embrace Kids Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute and professor of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said in the release. “By better understanding the impact of chemotherapy exposure at a biological level and determining the impact of that exposure on cognitive function in this population, clinicians can be better guided on how to individually tailor treatment to reduce toxicity. Our hope is that this will enable us to reduce or eliminate late effects of treatment that persist into the survivorship years."

Reference:

Understanding 'Chemo Brain' in Children: Researchers Secure $4.6 Million NIH Grant to Identify Those at Risk [news release]. Bronx, New York. Published August 11, 2020. Accessed August 31, 2020. https://prnmedia.prnewswire.com/news-releases/understanding-chemo-brain-in-children-researchers-secure-4-6-million-nih-grant-to-identify-those-at-risk-301110097.html