Is it possible to reverse damage inflicted on cognitive functions by chemotherapy? Sure, say doctors based on studies with neural stem cells.
The preclinical research conducted on rodents by scientists at UC Irvine has shown that neural stem cells could indeed reverse a range of cognitive functions ravaged by chemotherapy.
The study used a comprehensive platform of behavioral testing in arriving at this conclusion. Rats not treated with stem cells showed significant learning and memory impairment as compared to the ones that were.
Used to fight cancer, chemotherapy can cause severe cognitive dysfunction, often referred to as “chemobrain.” This can hound patients in many ways long after the end of treatments. This is a problem of particular concern with pediatric patients.
Charles Limoli, a UCI professor of radiation oncology said that their study “offers the first solid evidence that it is possible to reverse chemotherapeutic-induced damage of healthy tissue in the brain by transplanting human neural stem cells.”
Chemotherapy drugs aimed at different types of cancer can cause inflammation in the hippocampus, a cerebral region that presides over cognitive abilities, such as learning and memory. It can also destroy neurons and other cell types in the brain including dendrites and axons, which form the connective structure of neurons.
They also are known to damage the integrity of synapses — the vital links that permit neurons to pass electrical and chemical signals throughout the brain. It’s like a tree being pruned of its branches and leaves. This leaves functions like memory and learning severely impaired.
In the UCI study adult neural stem cells were transplanted into the brains of rats that had been through chemotherapy.
They migrated all across the hippocampus and differentiated into multiple neural cell types. Additionally, they triggered the secretion of neurotrophic growth factors that helped rebuild wounded neurons.