Targeted radiation therapy can be effective in reducing the size of a tumor, but it can leave bones more susceptible to fractures in the years after cancer.
Studying stem cells for possible solutions are Megan Oest, PhD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery, and Timothy Damron, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery, cell and developmental biology and neuroscience and physiology. Stem cells have the ability to develop into many different cell types, depending on the body’s needs.
Of the bone cells that are alive at the time of radiation, Oest and Damron have noticed that some die and are never replenished. They are experimenting with chemical or biological methods to prevent damage to these particular cells. Perhaps in the future, patients could receive an injection of a protective substance before undergoing radiotherapy.
It’s also possible, Oest theorizes, that patients could undergo something like a stem cell transplant after their therapy. Healthy cells could come from a donor, or from elsewhere in the patient’s body. She and Damron have learned that when radiation is applied to one leg, cells from the opposite leg remain undamaged. “In theory, if it worked, you could actually take cells from the healthy side of the patient and put them into the unhealthy side,” she says.
Oest and Damron are among dozens of researchers who have received grants from the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund of CNYsince 2002.