The currently untreatable muscle wasting condition responsible for one in five cancer deaths has a new team of Windsor researchers trying to unpack it.
Thanks to $100,000 in funding from CIBC, University of Windsor associate professor Dr. Matthew Krause can begin studies on cancer cachexia, an ailment that can cause muscle mass to degenerate until patients lose the strength to sit up in bed.
“The muscle wasting is, to an extent, a symptom of your body going through some kind of syndrome where it’s wasting tissue away and you’re heading towards death,” Krause said Thursday. “We’re trying to figure out how to put the brakes on that.”
Krause plans to study cancer patients already on the road to recovery in an exercise clinic at the university, and help them acquire muscle mass faster through tailored fitness programs. Researchers will work with doctors and gain access to clinical data, and collect their own data on patients’ physiological capabilities.
At the same time, researchers will study muscle tissue samples from mice with the disease.
Cachexia is caused by more than just the loss of appetite and lack of energy often experienced by people undergoing chemotherapy treatments, Krause said. High levels of certain hormones and other markers in the blood associated with the condition have harmful effects on tissues.
“You can increase food intake, you can put patients on specially formulated diets to try and increase their protein intake and things like — that might slow the progression of cachexia, but it’s not going to stop it,” he said. “It’s not getting at the key issue of why it’s happening.”
When people with the disease beat cancer, “it’s a slow road back to regaining strength and redeveloping muscle mass,” Krause said. The older someone is, the harder it is for them to recover the strength.
“Once the cancer’s been dealt with and you’re body’s recovering, then you should be able to get at least some of that muscle mass back,” Krause said. “We’re hoping to spur that on, help accelerate that.”
For just over a decade, Krause has been studying muscle wasting, which also effects elderly people, and people with diabetes, AIDS, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions. Although this new program will study cancer patients, the findings of the research could potentially help cancer-free cachexia sufferers.
“Whatever we discover, this is stuff that gets disseminated and published, and people around the world get to read it,” he said. “It’s not just local impact. It’s national, international impact.”
The money CIBC presented to his new research program Tuesday will pay for the equipment and supplies needed for studies, as well as fund graduate student scholarships.
“A lot of our time as professors and as researchers goes into doing battle for funding for research,” Krause said. “When a company steps up and is able to help out like this, it’s such a relief. This funding enables us to get started in this area and start our contribution. From there, hopefully it snowballs. You get research support like this to get a program rolling, then hopefully we would get on a major grant moving forward.”
Graduate students still need to be recruited for the research program, and the study must receive further approval from the necessary research ethics board, but Krause estimated things would be up and running some time over the next year.
Source: The Windsor Star