Neuroscientist discovers potential treatment for ‘chemobrain’

In a discovery that could one day help breast cancer patients, Dr Adam Walker from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and UNSW Sydney has found a potential treatment for ‘chemobrain’, a condition that affects up to 60 per cent of women after receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. [i]

The study published today 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 that chemotherapy was the only cause of cancer-associated cognitive impairment such as memory, learning and concentration difficulties, commonly dubbed as ‘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 that breast cancer cells released inflammatory markers that cause inflammation in the brain.

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

“This suggests that the tumour itself can actually hijack the brain via inflammation to cause cognitive impairment, but that we can use anti-inflammatories 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 anti-inflammatory 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.”

“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.” [ii]

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

“We think anti-inflammatory drugs could be a potentially cheap and safe intervention to prevent and treat chemobrain, but we need to learn more about who should take them and when during the cancer journey,” says Dr Walker.

Download digital assets. 


  • Chemobrain case study
  • Infographic
  • Video content

For more information or media enquiries contact:

Rachel Zarb, NeuRA
M: +61(0)405944755

Sophie Cooley, NBCF
M: +61(0)417421683

[i] National Cancer Institute

[ii] Cancer Australia