NeuRA Magazine #28


In a discovery that could one day help breast cancer patients, Dr Adam Walker has found a potential treatment for ‘chemobrain’, a condition that affects up to 60 per cent of women after receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.

The study, published in PLOS-ONE and funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF), has the potential to transform cancer treatment research and eradicate the negative side-effects of cancer and chemotherapy.

Dr Walker says that up until now, scientists believed chemotherapy was the only cause of cancer-associated cognitive impairment such as memory, learning and concentration difficulties, commonly dubbed ‘chemobrain’.

“However, studies have observed cognitive impairment in cancer patients prior to treatment,” says Dr Walker. “This suggests the cancer alone may be sufficient to induce cognitive impairment, but the mechanisms through which this occurs are unknown.”

In his study using animal models, Dr Walker targeted tumour-to-brain communication and found breast cancer cells released markers that cause inflammation in the brain.

He found a low dose of antiinflammatories completely blocked breast cancer cells from causing memory loss without affecting other aspects of the disease.

“This suggests the tumour itself can actually hijack the brain via inflammation to cause cognitive impairment, but we can use antiinflammatories to block this process. “Interventions to treat cancer-induced cognitive impairment have so far focused on behavioural therapies such as brain training, which don’t tap into the biological processes of tumour-to-brain communication,” says Dr Walker.

“This is the first study to show that we can potentially disrupt that communication using antiinflammatory agents such as aspirin to reduce the inflammation that causes cognitive impairment.”

CEO of NeuRA Professor Peter Schofield said this innovative new research has the potential to transform how cancer patients view and manage their treatment. “This work represents a new frontier for neuroscience in cancer research,” says Professor Schofield.

“Our ultimate goal is to eradicate the negative side effects of cancer treatment, so that quality versus quantity of life decisions no longer need to be made.” “Chemobrain has long been an issue for breast cancer patients who have been treated with chemotherapy,” says Dr Chris Pettigrew, NBCF Director of Research Investment.

“This new development is a big win for research and for the 68,824 Australians living with breast cancer.”

The next phase of Dr Walker’s work is to look at how anti-inflammatories might block other aspects of chemobrain like learning and concentration difficulties, and will be followed by clinical trials.

See what’s going on at NeuRA


Cortical activity during balance tasks in ageing and clinical groups using functional near-infrared spectroscopy

Prof Stephen Lord, Dr Jasmine Menant Walking is not automatic and requires attention and brain processing to maintain balance and prevent falling over. Brain structure and function deteriorate with ageing and neurodegenerative disorders, in turn impacting both cognitive and motor functions.   This series of studies will investigate: How do age and/or disease- associated declines in cognitive functions affect balance control? How is this further impacted by psychological, physiological and medical factors (eg. fear, pain, medications)? How does the brain control these balance tasks?     Approach The experiments involve experimental paradigms that challenge cognitive functions of interest (eg.visuo-spatial working memory, inhibitory function). I use functional near-infrared spectroscopy to study activation in superficial cortical regions of interest (eg. prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area…). The studies involve young and older people as well as clinical groups (eg.Parkinson’s disease).   Studies Cortical activity during stepping and gait adaptability tasks Effects of age, posture and task condition on cortical activity during reaction time tasks Influence of balance challenge and concern about falling on brain activity during walking Influence of lower limb pain/discomfort on brain activity during stepping   This research will greatly improve our understanding of the interactions between brain capacity, functions and balance control across ageing and diseases, psychological, physiological and medical factors, allows to identify targets for rehabilitation. It will also help identifying whether exercise-based interventions improve neural efficiency for enhanced balance control.