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Fatigue Research Lab Areas of Research

The researchers in the Fatigue Research Lab are currently working on three initiatives.

I. Understanding the cause of cancer treatment related symptoms in women with breast cancer

Breast cancer patients undergoing treatment often experience severe fatigue that has a profoundly negative effect on physical functioning and quality of life. Fatigue can persist long after treatment has ended. Despite its prevalence, cancer treatment related fatigue (CTRF) has been under diagnosed, under treated and under  researched.

Clinicians have long suspected that inflammation may play a role in CTRF, but to date the cause of CTRF is unclear, and the role of inflammatory cytokines, if any, in CTRF remains unknown.

In this study we are using a pre-clinical and clinical approach to examine the relationship between cancer chemotherapy, inflammatory cytokines and CTRF. Understanding whether CTRF is initiated by the production of inflammatory cytokines may lead to new treatment strategies.

This project is a collaboration between the Fatigue Research Lab, medical oncologists at MGH Cancer Center, and Oregon Health & Science University. Funding for this study comes from the National Institute for Nursing Research.

II. Targeting inflammation to reduce cancer treatment related symptoms

Patients undergoing chemotherapy experience treatment-related symptoms (CTRS), such as fatigue, malaise, decreased appetite, sleep disturbance, difficulty thinking, anemia, pain, depressed mood, and changes in body composition. The goals of this proposal are to elucidate the molecular and cellular basis of these symptoms and to test novel strategies for prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-related symptoms.

The purpose of this study is to determine whether mechanistically distinct chemotherapies trigger CTRS because they share a common ability to increase the production of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β). If proven, the various steps of the IL- β signaling cascade may provide important targets for intervention to prevent or treat CTRS. Funding for this study comes from the National Institute for Nursing Research.

III. Vestibular system dysfunction as a cause of cancer treatment related fatigue

The vestibular system, which is made up of parts of the inner ear and brain, detects head movement and helps to control balance. Not only do people with a damaged vestibular system have problems with balance, they can also experience fatigue, anxiety, and difficulty thinking.

Women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer also experience these symptoms which led us to question whether chemotherapy causes vestibular problems in breast cancer patients. This is important because fatigue, anxiety, and difficulty thinking are common and often debilitating symptoms in breast cancer patients going through chemotherapy that can last for months or years after treatment has ended. Balance problems can increase the risk of falls. How chemotherapy causes these symptoms is unclear.

The purpose of this study is to see whether chemotherapy damages the vestibular system in women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Study participants will undergo clinical vestibular testing before they start chemotherapy and then again several weeks after chemotherapy has finished. They will complete symptom surveys at the same time. This project is a collaboration between the Fatigue Research Lab and the Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute. Funding for this study is currently pending.

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