There are currently over 270,000 survivors of childhood and adolescent cancers in the United States. Chest radiotherapy is an effective treatment modality for many of these cancers, including Hodgkin lymphoma and bone cancers.
Radiotherapy results in damage to the DNA of cancer cells, which slows the rate of cancer growth. But because heart muscle cells generally divide very slowly, radiotherapy also has deleterious effects on the heart that are far more pronounced in patients receiving the therapy at a younger age.
The delayed effect of radiotherapy on the heart muscle is one of the most serious and poorly understood side effects of radiotherapy. Epidemiological studies indicate that the majority of patients undergoing chest radiotherapy during adolescence and young adulthood develop fibrosis in the cardiac muscle and are six times more likely to develop heart failure. Unfortunately, it remains unknown precisely how radiation therapy affects the heart muscle and whether this injury can be prevented.
Our group studies the effect of radiotherapy on the growth and renewal of heart muscle. We investigate how to prevent the deleterious effects of radiation exposure on cardiomyocytes and develop countermeasures for minimizing, preventing, or reversing both therapeutic and space radiation-induced myocardial damage.