Health Scan: Mutations determine severity of side effects for chemotherapy

Until now, it wasn’t known why some suffer light effects and others a greater ordeal, even though they underwent similar chemotherapy.

A monitor shows the image of a woman infected with breast cancer. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A monitor shows the image of a woman infected with breast cancer.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Researchers at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and the University of Haifa have figured out that genetic mutations cause side effects among women who take toxic drugs to kill breast tumors. Dr. Ido Wolf, director of the medical oncology department at the hospital and Dr. Dorit Pud of the social welfare and health faculty in Haifa, said that for the first time, “there is a physiological, genetic explanation for such side effects. In the next stage of our research, it will be possible to develop simple tests to predict who will suffer more from such symptoms and perhaps even to create medications that counter the mechanism we discovered.”
Their findings were published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Breast cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy usually have to face many side effects, including weakness, nausea, pain and reduced function. Until now, it wasn’t known why some suffer light effects and others a greater ordeal, even though they underwent similar chemotherapy.
“We looked at the severity of side effects among 105 patients, giving them detailed questionnaires,” said Wolf and Pud. Blood samples were taken from them and examined for DNA changes. “Those who suffered the worst side effects had mutations that cause poor function of one of their serotonin receptors. Now we know that the widespread belief that cultural or psychological factors are not responsible for the difference in side effects but a clear genetic basis for at least some of the side effects.” .
Watching videos of simple tasks before actually doing them may boost the brain’s structure, or plasticity, and increase motor skills, according to a paper that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th annual meeting to be held soon in Philadelphia. Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to flex and adapt, allowing for better learning, and it is gradually lost as people age.
For the study, 36 healthy, right-handed adults participated in 40-minute training sessions five times weekly for two weeks.
Half the group watched videos of a specific task, such as writing with a pen, cutting with scissors or handling coins and then were asked to complete the task themselves.
The other half watched videos of landscapes and had to complete the same tasks.
At the start of the study and again two weeks later, the groups were tested for strength and hand skills. They also underwent 3-D MRI brain scans, which scientists used to see changes in brain volume in both groups.
The study found that those who completed the training along with watching the activity videos had 11 times greater improvement of motor skill abilities – mainly in terms of strength – compared to those who watched the landscape videos.
“Our study lends credence to the idea that even as an adult, your brain is able to better learn skills just by watching the activity take place. With a dramatic increase of videos available through mobile phones, computers and other newer technology, this topic should be the focus of more research,” said study author Dr. Paolo Preziosa in Italy. “The results might also contribute to reducing disability and improving quality of life of those who are impaired or who are undergoing physical rehabilitation,” he suggested.
The Technion’s Rappaport Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research will in two weeks be awarded to Weizmann Institute Prof. Yair Reisner and the Hebrew University’s Dr.
Yaakov Nahmias. Reisner gets a $60,000 prize for his groundbreaking contribution in the study of bone marrow transplant therapy, and Nahmias a $40,000 prize for identifying a molecule called naringenin that is derived from grapefruit and capable of blocking viral production.
The prize for excellence was established to promote visionary, groundbreaking and innovative research with therapeutic repercussions that are unique and significant to promoting human health.
Worldwide, more than 30,000 patients benefit from bone marrow transplant therapy every year. The success of these procedures largely relies on genetic compatibility between the donor and recipient. Unfortunately, only a minority of eligible patients find a compatible match.
Reisner’s research paved the way for implementing bone marrow transplantation in patients without a matched donor.
Insights from his basic research initially led to a successful treatment for “bubble babies” born with a severely defective immune system. His approach was adopted by many centers throughout the world, resulting in impressive cures. Subsequently, his continued discoveries paved the way for the successful transplantation of mismatched bone marrow in leukemia patients. More recently, he has described a novel approach for bone marrow transplantation in leukemia patients who cannot tolerate strong irradiation.
Meanwhile, Nahmias addressed complex problems in biology and medicine by using an integrated multidisciplinary approach. By combining an in-depth understanding of physics, engineering and biology, he worked in liver tissue engineering and the hepatitis C virus (HCV) lifecycle. He then created a nanotechnology-based complex that dramatically increases the bioavailability of naringenin, leading to a clinical trial at Massachusetts General Hospital that was completed with excellent results.
Nahmias was able to take his discovery from the lab to a successful clinical trial in an astonishingly short period of less than three years, and without industry support.