Patient Care

Scientist Investigates Muscle Loss among Children with Cancer

Aug. 2, 2017
young boy drinking out of a water bottle

A University of Rochester Medical Center researcher received $1.7 million to study and potentially treat the muscle loss that often plagues childhood cancer survivors as they age.

The five-year grant to Joe V. Chakkalakal, Ph.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedics, is a result of a collaboration and seed funding from the Wilmot Cancer Institute, which allowed him to generate the data to obtain the larger grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Chakkalakal studies muscle stem cells in connection with skeletal muscle decline. Young cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy sometimes experience sarcopenia, the accelerated loss of lean body muscle tissue and strength. Sarcopenia-related muscle atrophy is associated with muscle stem cell loss and chronic, low-grade inflammation.

The new investigation will try to determine if childhood radiation treatments destroy muscle stem cells and thereby impair the young musculoskeletal system as it tries to mature properly. In addition, Chakkalakal is studying the factors that accelerate sarcopenia and how to prevent the systematic loss of muscle stem cells and skeletal decline caused by radiation. 

Although the overall five-year survival rate for children who have cancer is nearly 80 percent, it’s important to alleviate the long-term consequences from cancer treatment in young people, he said. For example, the majority of childhood survivors who receive radiation therapy begin to experience limitations in strength and mobility by age 40 that are more commonly linked to older adults, he added. The physical limitations can eventually lead to more falls, fractures, and other muscle weaknesses.

Eddie Schwarz, Ph.D., the Burton Professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and director of URMC’s Center for Musculoskeletal Research, and Jacky Williams, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine and Radiation Oncology, are collaborating with Chakkalakal on this project. All are members of the Wilmot research team.