Monday, February 16, 2015

In Rats, Transplanting Human Neural Stem Cells Restores Cognitive Function

This is an intriguing study out of UC Irvine with results reported in the February 15, 2015 issue of Cancer Research. I'm wondering if there's a window of opportunity. For example, were this to be valid for human trial, would transplantation reverse "chemo brain" in those still struggling years after cancer treatment?  I hope research continues with success...Idelle

See more below in this press release from the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  

Irvine, Calif. -- Human neural stem cell treatments are showing promise for reversing learning and memory deficits after chemotherapy, according to UC Irvine researchers.

In preclinical studies using rodents, they found that stem cells transplanted one week after the completion of a series of chemotherapy sessions restored a range of cognitive functions, as measured one month later using a comprehensive platform of behavioral testing. In contrast, rats not treated with stem cells showed significant learning and memory impairment.

The frequent use of chemotherapy to combat multiple cancers can produce severe cognitive dysfunction, often referred to as "chemo brain," which can persist and manifest in many ways long after the end of treatments in as many as 75 percent of survivors - a problem of particular concern with pediatric patients.

"Our findings provide the first solid evidence that transplantation of human neural stem cells can be used to reverse chemotherapeutic-induced damage of healthy tissue in the brain," said Charles Limoli, a UCI professor of radiation oncology.

Many chemotherapeutic agents used to treat disparate cancer types trigger inflammation in the hippocampus, a cerebral region responsible for many cognitive abilities, such as learning and memory. This inflammation can destroy neurons and other cell types in the brain.

Additionally, these toxic compounds damage the connective structure of neurons, called dendrites and axons, and alter the integrity of synapses - the vital links that permit neurons to pass electrical and chemical signals throughout the brain. Limoli compares the process to a tree being pruned of its branches and leaves.

Consequently, the affected neurons are less able to transmit important neural messages that underpin learning and memory.

"In many instances, people experience severe cognitive impairment that's progressive and debilitating," Limoli said. "For pediatric cancer patients, the results can be particularly devastating, leading to reduced IQ, asocial behavior and diminished quality of life."

For the UCI study, adult neural stem cells were transplanted into the brains of rats after chemotherapy. They migrated throughout the hippocampus, where they survived and differentiated into multiple neural cell types. Additionally, these cells triggered the secretion of neurotrophic growth factors that helped rebuild wounded neurons.

Importantly, Limoli and his colleagues found that engrafted cells protected the host neurons, thereby preventing the loss or promoting the repair of damaged neurons and their finer structural elements, referred to as dendritic spines.

"This research suggests that stem cell therapies may one day be implemented in the clinic to provide relief to patients suffering from cognitive impairments incurred as a result of their cancer treatments," Limoli said. "While much work remains, a clinical trial analyzing the safety of such approaches may be possible within a few years."


Munjal Acharya, Lori-Ann Christie, Vahan Martirosian, Nicole N. Chmielewski, Nevine Hanna, Katherine Tran, Alicia Liao and Vipan Parihar of UCI contributed to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (grant R01 NS074388581) and supported by UCI's Institute for Clinical & Translational Science.

doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-2237

Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Use This Blog

Idelle Davidson

Welcome. I hope you'll find the articles and stories here valuable. To begin, use the SEARCH BOX, top right.  Type in keywords like, lymphoma or breast cancer or memory or multitasking or driving, or word retrieval, or exercise, and see what articles and resources pop up. Also browse the LABELS index (right column, bottom of page) and check out reader favorites.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Brain Freeze," A Poem by Susan Rubin

I'd like you to know about my friend, Susan. She's smart and funny and one of my heroes. Susan does not let go. She pushes and prods the experts until they recognize her chemo-related disabilities and provide resources for her and others.  She sends them copies of our book so they'll see the research and understand that chemo brain is real. 

But Susan continues to struggle.  Here's her beautiful poem...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

For a Sharper Memory, Play Like a Kid!

This video about Stephen Jepson will inspire you to change your life. You probably have many of these items around the house already. I am a believer!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is "Chemo Brain" a Disability Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)?

People often report debilitating cognitive issues following treatment for cancer.  I wondered, are there legal protections available to them if they can no longer work?

To find out, I spoke with Joanna Morales, an attorney and the former director of the Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC), a national, joint program of the Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School Los Angeles.
The CLRC provides free information and resources on cancer-related legal issues to cancer survivors, caregivers, health care professionals, employers, and others coping with cancer.  I hope you find the information helpful.  -- Originally published in 2010 but worth repeating.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Erdheim-Chester Histiocytosis: An Orphan Disease With a Champion

Published 11/18/2014 in the Washington Post 

By Idelle Davidson

It wasn’t until she read her husband’s autopsy report that Kathy Brewer learned his diagnosis — a disease so rare that not one doctor had figured it out. His illness began in 1998, the year Kathy, then 38, and, Gary Brewer, then 58, got married. But Gary was busy with his job as a school superintendent in DeRidder, La., and paid little attention to his backaches and knee pain, chalking them up to overexercising. Eventually, though, those first symptoms led to constant fatigue and nausea, facial numbness, congestive heart disease and kidney failure. Three years after receiving a kidney transplant, Gary couldn’t walk or swallow. Several of his organs shut down, and he died in 2007.

The cause was Erdheim-Chester disease (ECD), one of 7,000 diseases tracked by the nonprofit National Organization for Rare Disorders. The National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration call such ailments “orphan” diseases because they each affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Can Sea Snails Fix Chemo Brain?

Aplysia Californica
It appears we have a few things in common with sea snails. In fact, neurobiolgists have long recognized the scientific possibilities of their nervous systems, using them in studies of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. They are reflexive creatures, containing only about 20,000 neurons compared to the 100 billion in the typical adult brain. But the neurons are large and relay information much the same way as in humans. That simplicity helps scientists isolate how they—and we—learn.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wanted: Chemo Brain Rehab Programs - An Open Letter to Cancer Centers

As a science writer who went through cancer and post-treatment fog and then wrote a book about the “chemo brain” phenomenon, I can tell you there is enormous frustration in the cancer community over the lack of systems to help with quality of life.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Poetry of Chemo Brain

I would like to congratulate Elise Partridge whose poem, “Chemo Side Effects: Memory,” was just posted on former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s Poetry Forum website.