Newswise — When a patient is already battling cancer, perhaps the very last thing they want to hear is that the medication being used to treat the cancer can damage their heart. But for patients using the chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin, that can be the case. Though the medication is highly effective in treating multiple cancers, such as specific types of leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, breast, ovarian and gastric cancer – to name only a few – its dose must be limited in order to prevent heart damage.

To tackle this problem, Xinzhu (Shin) Pu, an assistant research professor in Boise State University’s biology department and Biomolecular Research Center, has been awarded a one-year renewable grant of $50,000 by the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (Idaho INBRE) to fund a pilot study related to the heart-damaging effects of Doxorubicin.

“This research can potentially benefit cancer patients that receive Doxorubicin treatment in two ways,” said Pu. “One, to reduce the toxicity to the heart; and two, because of the reduced toxicity, higher doses can be used to improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment.”

Pu’s research represents a novel approach to toxicity studies; he is using advanced mass spectrometry techniques to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of cardiac fibroblast function that include the extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounding cells.

“A lot of research has been done on how doxorubicin can injure the cardiomyocytes, i.e., muscle cells in the heart. Much less is known what this drug can do to the cardiac fibroblasts, the cells that make extracellular matrix and support the normal heart functions. This research is unique because it focuses on the effects of Doxorubicin on fibroblast cells in the heart,” said Pu.

The unique angle for this research was inspired in part by Boise State chemistry professor Don Warner and biochemistry professor Ken Cornell’s work in creating less toxic Doxorubicin analogs, and biology department professor Julie Oxford’s expertise in the field of extracellular matrix research. By conducting this research, Pu is hopeful that the work then may be used to study and remedy other chemotherapy drugs with similar issues.

“Doxorubicin is not the only chemical that can cause heart damage. Many other cancer treatments and environmental chemicals can also induce toxicity to the heart. Building upon this project, we are hoping to expand our research to investigate the role of cardiac fibroblasts and extracellular matrix in cardiotoxicity induced by other agents,” he said.