Dr. Fen Xia, a professor and chair of the department of radiation oncology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has received a five-year grant of more than $1.86 million from the National Cancer Institute.
She received the grant for her project titled “The Novel Role of Sirtuin 2 in Regulation of Transcription-Associated DNA Damage Repair” which is aimed at reducing long-term neurological damage caused by the common cancer treatment of using platinum-based chemotherapy alongside radiation therapy.
Radiation and platinum-based chemotherapy is commonly used to treat head and neck cancers, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer and others. Patients receiving this type of treatment may develop peripheral neuropathy, a nerve damage condition which can include irreversible weakness, numbness and pain in the hands and feet.
“We don’t fully understand the reason why some patients experience neurological damage due to this combination of cancer therapies, and, unfortunately, we lack drugs that selectively protect neuron survival without compromising their cancer-fighting ability,” said Xia in a UAMS news release.
In her preliminary study, Xia discovered a connection between the function of the protein Sirtuin 2 (SIRT2) with repair of DNA damage caused by radiation and platinum-based chemotherapy. SIRT2 participates in a variety of cellular functions including metabolism, response to oxidative stress and tumor suppression.
“Our research goal is to better understand the biological role of SIRT2 and the molecular mechanisms that regulate the repair of damaged DNA caused by radiation and/or chemotherapy. If we can determine the different connection between DNA repair in cancer cells’ growth and normal neuronal cells’ survival, we may be able to find new ways to treat cancer and to spare patients from treatment caused toxicity, ” Xia said.
She hopes the study will be the groundwork for future research investigating ways to alleviate or prevent neurotoxicity in cancer patients, while maintaining the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy.