Researchers ID new biomarkers of ‘chemobrain’

Cancer-related cognitive impairment, or “chemobrain,” can negatively impact a patient’s memory and daily life. Researchers from Singapore have identified new biomarkers for the condition that may help clinicians identify those at a higher risk. 

“By identifying the clinically relevant factors which predispose patients to chemobrain, more appropriate interventions can be tailored accordingly to patients who are at a higher risk of developing cognitive impairment,” said lead researcher Alexandre Chan, of the department of pharmacy at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Science, in a news release.

The team recruited 81 early-stage breast cancer patients with no prior exposure to chemotherapy or radiotherapy who were scheduled to receive chemo to treat their cancer at either the National Cancer Center Singapore or KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Singapore.

All patients completed assessments for self-perceived and objective cognitive function before, during and after chemotherapy. The validated questionnaire asked participants to assess mental acuity, concentration, memory, verbal fluency, functional interference and multitasking. A computer-based neuropsychological test assessed patient’s processing speed, response time, memory and attention span.

After collecting plasma samples before chemotherapy, the researchers found early-stage breast cancer patients with higher levels of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfated form (DHEAS)—together called DHEA(S)—were less likely to develop chemo-related cognitive impairment.

The team used ultra-high performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry to quantify DHEA(S) levels which are neurosteroids known to regulate brain development and function and have proved to be positively correlated with cognitive function, the authors wrote.

"Our findings suggest that patients with higher prechemotherapy DHEAS levels had lower odds of developing self-perceived cognitive impairment,” the authors concluded. “However, future studies are required to further investigate the effect of DHEA(S) on specific cognitive domains and to validate our findings in independent cohorts."

The full study was published in Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy.