"Radiation is an effective treatment, but 20 to 40 percent of patients who get whole-brain radiation develop cognitive impairment within a year," said Mike Robbins, Ph.D., professor of radiation biology. "Their families and friends notice that they aren't as sharp as they used to be. The impairment is chronic and progressive."
These cognitive problems can include difficulty with concentration, language, memory and abstract reasoning.
With funding from the National Cancer Institute, Robbins will test whether drugs designed to block certain receptors in the brain can help prevent brain injury from radiation. About 175,000 cancer patients each year receive radiation treatments that target the whole brain or large areas of the brain.
Currently, there are no known treatments to prevent cognitive impairment that can result from the treatment. Robbins said that the aging American population makes it imperative to solve the problem.
"Cancer is a disease of old age, so the number of people getting whole-brain radiation will increase," he said.
Robbins says that, in essence, radiation speeds up the brain's aging process. Researchers believe the cause may be chronic inflammation or oxidative stress, which occurs when cells cannot remove free radicals, or structurally unstable cells that can damage healthy cells.
Robbins' project is based on new evidence that some of the same drugs used to treat obesity and diabetes may also prevent inflammation. In laboratory studies, he will explore the use of drugs that block peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs). These receptors are known to control fat and glucose
Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center