Researchers aim to prevent muscle wasting that causes many cancer deaths

Researchers at the University of Alberta are looking for ways to prevent or slow cachexia, a muscle-wasting syndrome thought to cause up to a third of the 80,000 deaths related to cancer every year in Canada.

By understanding the role of activin A, a growth factor that contributes to muscle wasting, the team hopes their lab research will eventually help treat patients, improve their quality of life and reduce mortality, said project lead Xavier Clemente-Casares, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology.

Activin A is a key developmental factor for the heart during the embryonic stage, but after birth it plays other roles that aren’t fully understood, Clemente-Casares explained. Previous research has established that it contributes to cardiac and other muscle wasting, especially in patients with advanced cancer. Chemotherapy is also known to contribute to muscle wasting.

In the first stage of the project, the collaborators will design and develop a cell-based sensor to detect activin A signalling pathways and see whether they are turned on in the cell lines. In the second stage, the researchers will use the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry‘s library of thousands of drug compounds and test whether any are effective in stopping the pathway-signalling process.

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