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.
And now, according to neuroscientist John Byrne, PhD. and his team at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, these animals may hold the key to preventing chemo brain.

As reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, the scientists found that the cancer drug, doxorubicin, blocked a pathway responsible for memory in a sea snail. But thenand this is the exciting partthey were able to reopen the pathway with an experimental drug.

Unfortunately, according to the university’s press release, the drug would not be appropriate for humans.

I was curious to learn more and so I wrote to Dr. Byrne. I wanted to know why the drug would not be appropriate and what agents might eventually work in humans.

He was kind enough to email this response:

"I think that we made an important step in understanding cognitive deficits associated with chemotherapy, but much needs to be done before this knowledge can be applied to patients. For example, we need to know that the p38 MAPK pathway is also involved in cognitive deficits in humans and then identify an effective inhibitor of that pathway (the one we used SB203580 is not FDA approved). Importantly, any inhibitor must be specific for the cognitive deficits and not affect the ability of the cancer drug to target and destroy cancer cells."

Okay, sounds interesting. Here's hoping advances move faster than at a snail’s pace. -- ID


  1. Thanks Idelle. Really interesting update, especially as I had large doses of doxorubicin! I wonder if there might be healthier way to open up the pathways once they understand the mechanisms further. Fingers crossed X

  2. How fantastic that you could directly contact the researcher for a quote. I love the internet ;) ~Catherine