September 25, 2015
Dr. Aouizerat is studying the influence of biological and chronological aging on fatigue in oncology patients, and the proposed studies are designed to identify the biological mechanisms that could be used to decrease fatigue commonly experienced by women with breast cancer.
Fatigue is one of the most common and severe symptoms reported in oncology patients and is challenging in women with breast cancer. In addition, cancer survivors often continue to experience persistent fatigue with fatigued survivors displaying impaired physical functioning equivalent to individuals who are two decades older. Recent evidence suggests that DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that is the result of biological adaptations to environmental exposures, can be measured to estimate an individual’s “biological” as compared to their chronological age. Age and both morning and evening fatigue display an inverse relationship with younger oncology patients typically reporting more severe fatigue than older patients. However, the mechanism that underlies this relationship is poorly understood.
To further their research, the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), part of the National Institute of Health (NIH), has awarded Dr. Aouizerat a two-year, $450,500 Award (R21) to study the impact of biological and chronological age on morning and evening fatigue in a cohort of women with breast cancer receiving chemotherapy. “The proposed research is significant because age has always been viewed as an unchangeable risk factor in disease. The emergence of methods to study the epigenome, the sum of biological adaptations that occur throughout our lives in response to environmental exposures, opens a vista towards overturning the fatalistic view of aging. Epigenetic adaptations appear to be, to some extent, reversible. And thus, beneficial epigenetic changes may be leveraged, while detrimental epigenetic changes may be removed, resulting in more optimal functioning. Our hope is that an understanding of the roles of biological (i.e., epigenetic) as compared to chronological aging on the experience of fatigue in women with breast cancer receiving chemotherapy to treat their cancer may point towards novel interventions to decrease the severity and persistence of this devastating symptom in oncology patients. Moreover, this paradigm may prove useful in other disease models and with other traits.” NIH NINR R21 grant number: R21NR01526 (Aouizerat).