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    Research home > Beat Cancer Project > Cancer Treatment: Side effects - Reducing the pain of chemotherapy

    Cancer Treatment: Side effects - Reducing the pain of chemotherapy

    Professor Gordon S Howarth

    Strategically developed bioactive nutraceutical formulations will prevent, or reduce the severity of, experimentally-induced intestinal mucositis

    Our research

    Sadly, many people, including children, suffer from various forms of cancer. These individuals almost invariably undergo chemotherapy in an attempt to eliminate the cancer. However, chemotherapy produces serious side-effects in some 60% of cancer sufferers. One of these side-effects is termed mucositis which is the term for inflammation and ulceration of the mouth and digestive tract. This occurs because the chemotherapy is also attacking the cells lining these regions. Mucositis is a serious side-effect of chemotherapy. It is a devastating condition that can be life-threatening. At present, simple sucking of ice cubes is the best treatment.

    We seek to develop new treatments based on naturally-sourced compounds (derived from plants and bacteria) that are capable of reducing inflammation and damage to the intestine and protecting the intestine from the ravages of chemotherapy.

    What we aim to achieve

    The holy grail for our research would be to identify a new plant extract or probiotic bacteria that could protect the intestine from mucositis whilst simultaneously killing cancer cells directly. Indeed, we have made some important progress towards this vision. In experimental systems, we have identified specific extracts from grape seeds and mistletoe that have demonstrated the capacity to reduce mucositis while concurrently promoting the death of tumour cells. Developed further, cancer sufferers could be given the choice of a repertoire of naturally-sourced compounds to reduce the severity of mucositis and improve their quality of life.

    Our next steps and milestones

    Our research team is exploring in physiological model systems whether factors released from the probiotic, Escerichia coli Nissle 1917, can prevent injury by chemotherapy agent 5-FU. In the near future, a mistletoe extract will be subjected to in vivo testing to determine if it can prevent injury by the chemotherapy agent 5-FU and also coincidentally, increase the eradication of colon cancer. This project is anticipated to be finished in 2016.

    In addition, our research team is hoping to undertake human clinical trials of Grape Seed Extract in oral mucositis and Emu Oil in intestinal mucositis. Subject to the availability of funding, it is anticipated that these trials will take place from 2016 to 2018.

    What motivates me

    I’m motivated by the challenge of discovering a new treatment for mucositis. Such a treatment would improve the quality of life of ALL cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. If mucositis could be prevented, chemotherapy and radiotherapy doses could be increased, greatly improving the chances of eliminating the cancer. Apart from a productive day in the lab, my greatest motivation comes from giving presentations to the broader cancer community. I get to hear personal stories of tragedy, suffering, and courage. I feel my work gives them hope.

    My message to supporters

    There is clearly a need to find a way to prevent mucositis, or else to reduce its severity. However, to do so requires consistent financial support. The generous supporters of Cancer Council SA have given us the opportunity to identify new and unique agents capable of reducing mucositis in experimental systems. We are truly appreciative of this support and are now hoping to test these agents in clinical trials. This will of course rely on the ongoing support from hard-working donors and fundraisers. Thank you.

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