Scientists at Michigan State University are closer to discovering a possible way to boost healthy cell production in cancer patients as they receive chemotherapy. It may help prevent side effects like hair loss from the treatment.
“In most cases, cancer patients who receive chemotherapy lose their fast-growing normal cells, including hair, nails, and lining of the gut,” says Sophia Lunt, a postdoctoral research associate who led the study along with Eran Andrechek, a physiology professor at MSU. “Therefore, it’s necessary to understand the differences between normal versus cancer cells if we want to improve cancer therapy while minimizing the harsh side effects.”
By adding thymine — made from sugar in the body that is necessary to make DNA — the researchers were able to stimulate gene production and cause normal cells to multiply. While a positive finding, Andrechek says they must also determine what effect thymine might have on cancer cells.
“Before we can look at using thymine as a possible treatment supplement during chemotherapy, we have to know if it has the same effect on cancer cells,” Andrechek says. “We want to stop them from growing, not stimulate them.”
Both Lunt and Andrechek hope the next phase of their research will help answer this question and also reveal more on what to target in order to stop cancer cell production.
“To selectively stop cancer growth while avoiding side effects including hair loss and vomiting, we need to identify a second target in cancer cells, while providing normal cells with a supplement like thymine,” Lunt says.
The study, funded by organizations including the Department of Defense and National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, can be found online in the journal Molecular Cell.