ICRF Researcher Probes Ongoing Loss Of Skeletal Muscle in Cancer Patients
Ayelet Erez, MD, Phd, an ICRF Project Grant recipient, is focused on understanding the initiation and progression of cancer-associated cachexia in patients, which causes severe weight loss, along with wasting of the muscles of the body. As a pediatric geneticist, Erez volunteers her time to meet with children suffering from more than one type of cancer, as well as families with more than one child afflicted with cancer.
We are particularly interested in your research as it relates to cachexia (physical wasting and ongoing loss of skeletal muscle) and cancer. Can you briefly describe what you are working on?
Cachexia is an end-stage devastating condition in which the cancer patient experiences a dramatic weight loss due to the breakdown and loss of fat and muscle tissues. It occurs in about 80 percent of cancer patients and is the direct cause of death in about 20 percent. Interestingly, cachexia is unresponsive to diet, nor are there any biomarkers or beneficial therapeutic interventions. We hypothesize that cachexia, as a metabolic phenomenon, starts early during carcinogenesis and that if we can identify it before the terminal stage, we can prevent or alleviate cancer-associated cachexia. Thus, we are currently characterizing the metabolic changes accompanying cancer disease progress in cancer mouse models with and without cachexia to decipher differences unique to cachexia. We then confirm our findings in human cancer patients with cachexia. Our therapeutic aim is to reverse the identified changes and evaluate whether this can alleviate the cachexia.
How do you expect this to help cancer patients in the future?
Our vision is that in the future, routine blood tests taken on the day of cancer diagnosis will predict whether the patient is at risk for developing cachexia. Those patients identified to be at risk will be given a therapeutic agent that will preserve their metabolic homeostasis and restrict the deterioration to cachexia.