Skin cells may indicate chemotherapy side effects

Cells taken from patients can be tested for possible cardiac side effects.

By Stephen Feller

STANFORD, Calif., April 18 (UPI) -- Cells taken from breast cancer patients' skin may indicate whether the chemotherapy doxorubicin will cause heart damage during treatment, according to a study.

Researchers at Stanford University found exposing skin cells to the drug indicated whether patients would develop a heart condition as a result of cancer treatment with doxorubicin, suggesting a test may eventually be possible for doctors to use when planning treatment.


Doxorubicin causes heart damage in about 8 percent of patients, which can cause cell death in the muscle and in some cases require a heart transplant.

"Doxorubicin and other similar drugs are used to treat many types of cancers, including lymphomas and leukemias," Dr. Melinda Telli, an assistant professor of oncology at Stanford University, in a press release. "But we don't want to cure any of these patients of their cancers only to leave them with another life-threatening problem."

For the study, published in Nature Medicine, the researchers isolated skin cells from breast cancer patients, turning them into induced pluripotent stem cells.

Although some patients' cells suggested their hearts already had damage, those that were sensitive to the chemotherapy had higher levels of DNA damage and were more likely to initiate cellular suicide -- and this was more likely to happen in patients whose cells exhibited signs of existing damage.


"In the past, we've tried to model this doxorubicin toxicity in mice by exposing them to the drug and then removing the heart for study," said Dr. Joseph Wu, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute. "Now we can continue our studies in human cells with iPS-derived heart muscle cells from real patients. One day we may even be able to predict who is likely to get into trouble."

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