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Alexandra Binder
Alexandra Binder

A $1.8 million National Cancer Institute grant awarded to the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center will help determine how epigenetic age (age based on DNA biomarkers) can be used to predict the risk of chemotherapy side effects and if the rate of epigenetic aging can be reduced over treatment. UH researcher Alexandra Binder and collaborators hope to use their findings to improve health outcomes and quality of life for colon cancer patients who receive chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy, a common form of cancer treatment, uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs can also damage non-cancer cells, contributing to adverse side effects.

“Patients receiving chemotherapy may experience fatigue, hair loss, easy bruising and bleeding, infection, anemia, nausea, appetite changes and nerve problems,” said Binder. “Our goal is to appraise whether measuring a patient’s epigenetic age can inform more personalized treatment plans that minimize the acute and long-term health burdens of chemotherapy-associated toxicities.”

Epigenetic age measures whether an individual is aging faster than others of the same age based on specific patterns of gene regulation. These patterns of gene regulation can change with time, and are shaped by the environment and behaviors of an individual across their lifespan. Researchers have found strong evidence that epigenetic age can be used to predict risk for cancer, heart disease, other illnesses and overall mortality.

Binder and her collaborators will further examine whether a resistance training intervention can reduce the rate of epigenetic aging during chemotherapy treatment. Findings from these investigations may help doctors to better tailor a patient’s treatment regimen and exercise guidelines to lessen the harmful effects of cancer treatment.

This research is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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