'Chemobrain' confirmed in experiments with mice

University of Illinois researchers think a dietary treatment could be found to counteract the symptom, but they have not found one.

By Stephen Feller

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Although women who have been treated for breast cancer with chemotherapy have reported experiencing "chemobrain," studies have not confirmed it as a real thing -- until a recent study with mice at the University of Illinois.

Mice treated with chemotherapy showed cognitive effects interfering with their ability to function in mazes for months after treatment ended, the equivalent of years in human lives.


Although researchers have investigated short-term cognitive effects resulting from chemotherapy treatment, there have not been studies on whether the cognitive symptoms affect women for longer periods of time after treatment.

"The question is, after they completely recover from the acute assault of chemotherapy, many months or years later, do they still have cognitive impairments?" Dr. Justin Rhodes, a professsor of psychology at the University of Illinois, said in a press release.

For the study, published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, researchers treated mice with chemotherapy regimens, testing them against mice not receiving the drugs in the Morris Water Maze, a task that requires mice to find a hidden platform in a maze.

Mice receiving treatment were found to have 26 percent fewer surviving hippocampal neurons born during treatment and 14 percent fewer new hippocampal neurons generated during the three months after treatment.


This, the researchers report, suggests a longer-term effect on brain function after chemotherapy for human patients that may last as long as a decade after treatment has ended.

The researchers hoped to find a method of preventing the cognitive effects -- a diet enriched with omega-3 had no effects -- but they expect future research to help.

"Quality of life after chemotherapy is critically important, and chemobrain is significant in these survivors," said Dr. William Helferich, a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois.

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