Prevention of cardiac side effects of cancer treatment

Lead Researchers: Prof Helge Rasmussen, Dr Chia-Chi Liu

Heart muscle damage and heart failure is a serious side effect of cancer treatments and it is not uncommon that the life expectancy of cancer patients is limited due to heart disease induced by the cancer treatment, rather than by the cancer itself.

While very effective against many cancers, particular drugs can cause heart failure, and the risk increases as the total dose increases.

In a novel approach to reduce heart muscle damage, Dr Liu and Professor Rasmussen have developed a small protein molecule (peptide) that greatly increases the sensitivity of cancer cells to the drug, while its effects on the heart cells is much less pronounced.

The objective of Dr Liu and Professor Rasmussen’s project is to reduce the size of the cancer-killing molecule and refine its properties, and test if it can reduce or eliminate the risk of heart failure induced by cancer treatment drugs, without decreasing the effectiveness of the drug in treating the cancer.

The team’s test tube studies have found that the effectiveness of chemotherapy was increased nearly tenfold when the peptide they’ve developed was applied to the cancer cells. After successful tests on cells, the team are now testing the application of the peptide to tumours in mice with the objective of progressing towards human trials. The recent results from animal studies are very promising and reflect what they had discovered in the test-tube studies.