UH Cancer Center Researcher awarded $1.8M to predict risk of chemotherapy side effects

December 6, 2021

The National Cancer Institute has awarded University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center’s Alexandra Binder, ScD, $1.8 million to investigate how epigenetic age can be used to characterize the risk of chemotherapy side effects, and whether an exercise intervention can reduce the rate of epigenetic aging over treatment. Binder and collaborators hope to use findings from this study to improve health outcomes and quality of life for colon cancer patients who receive chemotherapy treatment.

Alexandra Binder
Alexandra Binder

Chemotherapy, a common form of cancer treatment, uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs can also damage non-cancer cells, contributing to adverse side effects. “Patients receiving chemotherapy may experience fatigue, hair loss, easy bruising and bleeding, infection, anemia, nausea, appetite changes, and nerve problems,” said Binder. “Our goal is to appraise whether measuring a patient’s epigenetic age can inform more personalized treatment plans that minimize the acute and long-term health burdens of chemotherapy-associated toxicities.”

Epigenetic age measures whether an individual is aging faster than others of the same age based on specific patterns of gene regulation. These patterns of gene regulation can change with time and are shaped by the environment and behaviors of an individual across their lifespan. There is strong evidence that epigenetic age can be used to predict risk for cancer, heart disease, other illnesses, and overall mortality.

Through this project, Binder and her colleagues will determine whether epigenetic age can be used to identify colon cancer patients at high risk for chemotherapy-associated toxicities. They will further examine whether a resistance training intervention can reduce the rate of epigenetic aging during chemotherapy treatment. Findings from these investigations may help doctors to better tailor a patient’s treatment regimen and exercise guidelines to lessen the harmful effects of cancer treatment.

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