NIH Issues Grant to Start Studying ‘Chemo Brain’ in Children

“Our hope is that this will enable us to reduce or eliminate late effects of treatment that persist into the survivorship years,” Dr. Peter Cole, of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said in a press release.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued a five-year, $4.6 million grant to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey to identify how chemotherapy effects the brain of children with cancer.

“While the phenomenon of ‘chemo brain’ is widely acknowledged, we don't know enough about how it affects children's brain development — and how significant and long-lasting the effects are,” said lead investigator Elyse Sussman, professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and of otorhinolaryngology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, in a press release. “Our study will investigate how chemotherapy disrupts sensory processing, memory and attention in children; where in the brain the damage is occurring; and whether there is a biomarker that can identify those who are most vulnerable. This is the first study of its kind to look at these details of cognition, brain development and changes over time.”

The study is expected to include 240 children between the ages of five to 12 years old at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in Bronx, New York, and the Rutgers Cancer Institute. Children will be eligible if they completed their chemotherapy treatments at least 12 months before joining the study.

Patients will participate in hearing tests and other cognitive assessments to offer researchers a glimpse of the electrical activity in their brains. These results will be merged with functional magnetic resonance imaging aimed at showing certain brain activity during attention, memory and sensory processing tests. The researchers will then repeat the same tests the following year.

The researchers, according to the release, hope to be able to use the data to develop protective interventions that could prevent permanent harm in the long run.

“Children are susceptible to the damaging effects of cancer therapy because their brains continue to go through stages of structural change and development until young adulthood,” said Dr. Peter Cole, chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, in the release. “By better understanding the impact of chemotherapy exposure at a biological level and determining the impact of that exposure on cognitive function in this population, clinicians can be better guided on how to individually tailor treatment to reduce toxicity. Our hope is that this will enable us to reduce or eliminate late effects of treatment that persist into the survivorship years.”