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Softening the blow of chemotherapy

chemotherapy infusion illustration


Some types of chemotherapy deplete bone marrow stem cells that are responsible for the body’s daily production of blood cells. That is debilitating for many patients, who may become so sick they require hospitalization. Their cancer treatment may be delayed or their medication dose lowered to a level that’s not effective — and that can have fatal consequences.

If scientists can come up with a way to help blood cells recover during chemotherapy, lives could be saved or improved and health care costs reduced.

Upstate’s William Kerr, PhD, thinks an enzyme in blood-forming stem cells could do the trick.

Kerr has spent much of his career studying the SHIP1 enzyme, which helps cells determine how to respond to signals that come from outside the cell. His initial work involved inhibiting this enzyme’s activity to enhance blood cell recovery after radiation exposure. A new study looks at inhibiting the activity of SHIP1 but after chemotherapy rather than radiation.

“If it works for radiation, we hypothesized that it would work for chemotherapy because chemotherapy and radiation are both essentially damaging the blood-forming stem cell capacity,” Kerr explains.

HealthLInk on Air logo(Click here to listen to William Kerr, PhD, describe how his research aims to help lessen the blow of chemotherapy for patients.)

Kerr is a professor of microbiology and immunology, biochemistry and molecular biology and pediatrics at Upstate and a co-founder of Alterna Therapeutics, a private biotechnology company. Kerr, Alterna Therapeutics and a Syracuse University professor are the recent beneficiaries of a one-year, $225,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how manipulating SHIP1 might help people better tolerate and recover from chemotherapy. Research supported by the grant will be conducted at the Central New York Biotech Accelerator at Upstate.

Alterna Therapeutics CEO Chris Meldrum notes that Kerr’s potential breakthrough could be especially helpful to patients who undergo chemotherapy or other treatments that severely deplete or suppress production of blood cells by the bone marrow. Such a discovery from Kerr’s lab may also have the potential to improve blood cell recovery following bone marrow transplant procedures.

This article is from the spring 2020 issue of Cancer Care magazine.