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Study finds possible therapy to prevent 'chemobrain'

Researchers at the University of Kansas think chemobrain, cognitive impairment occurring in about one-third of cancer patients after chemotherapy, could be avoided by preventing a temporary increase in hydrogen peroxide in the brain during treatment.

By
Amy Wallace
Researchers at the University of Kansas have found a potential treatment for the cognitive impairment cancer patients experience after chemotherapy known as chemobrain. Photo by Riff/Shutterstock
Researchers at the University of Kansas have found a potential treatment for the cognitive impairment cancer patients experience after chemotherapy known as chemobrain. Photo by Riff/Shutterstock

April 12 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Kansas may have found a potential therapeutic treatment to help cancer patients experiencing chemobrain.

Chemobrain is a cognitive impairment as many as one-third of cancer patients experience after treatment with chemotherapy, and a study earlier this year at the University of Rochester found chemobrain is widespread among breast cancer patients.

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With the new study, published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research, researchers say they have a better understanding of the condition and think they may be able to prevent changes in the brain during treatment that cause it.

"It's something doctors learned about because patients were complaining," Michael Johnson, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas, said in a press release. "Symptoms include visual and verbal memory loss -- so if you have a conversation with somebody, you may have difficulty recalling it. You might have attention deficit, so if you're trying to do taxes it might be difficult to focus. It also can result in a decline in processing speed, so it may be more difficult to think on your toes. You may have trouble remembering words. A whole array of things that can go wrong."

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Previous research by Johnson published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience showed chemotherapy's influence on the release and uptake of the central nervous system neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

In the new study, the researchers found higher levels of hydrogen peroxide in the brain, as well as impaired release and uptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in rats after they were treated with chemotherapy.

The researchers found the compound KU-32, developed at KU, appeared to prevent cognitive decline in rats that had been caused by chemotherapy.

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KU-32 works by inducing the heat shock response, which protects cells and may counteract the damaging effects of hydrogen peroxide, the researchers said.

"In our preliminary results, we found that hydrogen peroxide temporarily increases in the brains of chemotherapy-treated rats," Johnson said. "Because hydrogen peroxide is a reactive oxygen species and potentially damaging, it may have an effect on cognitive function. Additionally, we may have a therapy that can serve as a preventative in order to treat it. We found that KU-32 prevents cognitive impairment, and our preliminary neurochemical data suggest that it may prevent increases in hydrogen peroxide production."

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