Little is known about the causes and consequences of this process
Although many people know that patients with a serious form of cancer lose weight and muscle mass during their illness, little is known about the causes and consequences of this process. Researchers at Maastricht UMC+ will therefore conduct research to carefully map out this phenomenon, also known as cachexia, in relation to treatment for the first time. They will do this in patients with pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer.
The research is led by gynecological oncologist Dr Sandrijne Lambrechts and cell biologist Dr Sander Rensen. They will receive a grant of more than €300,000 from Cancer Research Fund Limburg for this research and will collaborate with, among others, Prof. Steven Olde Damink, professor of surgery specializing in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, professor of gynecology and obstetrics Roy Kruitwagen and medical oncologist Dr. Roy Lalisang.
Pancreatic and ovarian cancers are usually only diagnosed at an advanced stage and are therefore cancers with a relatively poor prognosis for the patient. Most patients lose weight, lose muscle mass and thus lose weight during their disease process. We call that cachexia. Cachexia has a major impact: it leads to a poorer prognosis and has a major negative impact on quality of life.
The researchers are therefore not satisfied with the current knowledge and want to map out the severity of the cachexia in detail in this study. Lambrechts: ‘This has never been done so extensively before; we already know that exercise and extra nutrition are not enough to prevent cachexia. There are also substances from the tumor that contribute to weight loss. We think we can further optimize and personalize the treatment if we know which substances these are and link that to information about how cachexia develops.’ From next year, the research team will therefore closely monitor patients with pancreatic and ovarian cancer at Maastricht UMC+ and Zuyderland Medical Center by measuring their weight and physical activity on a daily basis. This data is then linked to detailed patient data in areas such as the effectiveness of the treatment and the course of the disease. This creates a database with valuable insight into the process behind whether or not cachexia develops.
Subsequently, so-called organoids or ‘mini-tumors’ are grown in the laboratory from tumor cells of patients with and without cachexia, which develop outside the body as true tumors. This allows the researchers to analyze how the tumor cells and the muscle cells affected by cachexia influence each other, thereby unraveling mechanisms that contribute to the development of cachexia. The minitumors are also exposed to different forms of chemotherapy to investigate whether there is a relationship between cachexia and the response to this treatment.
Rensen: ‘With this research we want to take steps towards further personalized treatment for cancer patients. Because if we better understand how cachexia works and how cachexia influences the success of a therapy, we can use more targeted treatments and possibly develop new treatments. In addition, we hope that this research will ultimately improve the quality of life of patients, whether the treatment is curative or not. Because we think it’s important not only to look at the disease, but at the patient as a whole.’
Clinical Research Unit
A large part of the research will take place at the newly opened Clinical Research Unit, the newly opened research facility in the hospital where patient-related research into nutrition and metabolism takes place. Also read the interview with Prof. Steven Olde Damink and PhD candidate Nicole Hildebrand about research into cachexia. Lambrechts and Rensen will be working closely with them.
Source: Maastricht UMC+
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