Biddeford Campu sof University of New England. Courtesy photo/Dave Cleaveland

BIDDEFORD — Chemotherapy is a life-saving treatment for millions of cancer patients, but the side effects can be detrimental to everyday life. Peripheral neuropathy — numbness, weakness, and pain in the hands and feet — associated with chemotherapy can last years, if it goes away at all.

But what if there was a way to treat peripheral neuropathy — even before a patient starts chemotherapy?

That is the goal of a study by University of New England researcher Diana Goode, Ph.D., who recently received $1.7 million in funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), members of the National Institutes of Health, to study the role of anti-inflammatory immune cells in the prevention of peripheral neuropathy.

Courtesy photo/Tim Greenway

The R01 grant funding will allow Goode, assistant professor of immunology in UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, to examine the effects of antinociceptive (pain-blocking) CD4+ T-helper cells in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and how they may impede the pain associated with peripheral neuropathy.

The results of the study, according to Goode, may allow for the development of novel treatments that can be introduced before chemotherapy in cancer patients to mitigate the adverse effects of their life-saving medication.

“This grant will allow us to dissect how T-cells interact with neurons, which would allow us to specifically target these neuroprotective immune cells to prevent the development of peripheral neuropathy,” Goode remarked.

The study is based on novel findings by Goode’s research team that determined estrogen plays a role in supporting immune function in the peripheral nervous system.

Goode and her team recently determined that high levels of anti-inflammatory T-cells in the peripheral nervous system of female mice drastically decreased when their ovaries were removed, suggesting that estrogen may be beneficial in producing pain-fighting cells. This next phase in the research will determine estrogen’s role in the PNS and how it can be incorporated into a pre-chemotherapy treatment regimen.

“We think estrogen is protective because it’s increasing this neuroprotective immune cell population,” Goode said. “Our long-term goal is to boost this protective population of helpful immune cells in the PNS prior to the administration of chemotherapy. We propose to add a component to their premedication regimen to boost these helpful T-cells before cancer treatment, so that those with cancer can stay on their life-saving chemotherapy.”

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