Two IU researchers awarded $1.6 million by Department of Defense for breast cancer study

  • Sept. 30, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two Indiana University researchers have been awarded nearly $1.6 million to study how a non-drug treatment may benefit women with breast cancer who also experience muscle weakness and bone loss.

The Department of Defense awarded Theresa Guise, M.D., the Jerry and Peggy Throgmartin Professor of Oncology at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, and William Thompson, DPT, Ph.D., assistant professor at the IU School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, a three-year Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Award.

The two researchers propose that low-intensity vibration therapy may be a way to restrict muscle weakness and bone loss in patients with breast cancer. The vibration treatment may also prevent breast cancer from spreading to bones.

Dr. Thompson explained that standard breast cancer treatments, which remove estrogens from the body, cause severe side effects, including muscle weakness and bone loss.

"While exercise helps to prevent these effects, most patients experience severe fatigue and are at an increased fracture risk from strenuous activities," he said. "It is theorized that low-intensity vibration therapies may provide breast cancer patients with the same benefits of exercise, such as increased bone and muscle strength.

"Low-intensity vibration is a therapeutic intervention used to deliver very small magnitude mechanical forces to the body," he added. "These forces are barely detectable, and actually feel like the buzzing from something like an electric toothbrush."

Dr. Guise said, "Since low-intensity vibration therapies have effects on both bone and muscle, it has the potential to further reduce bone fracture risk by increasing bone density and reducing falls as well as by enhancing the effects of standard bisphosphonate therapy. It also may have a direct effect on the cancer cells to reduce tumor growth."

The researchers will test low-intensity vibration therapy on mice with breast cancer in the bone as well as genetically engineered mice, both alone and in combination with bisphosphonate treatment, to determine effectiveness. Bisphosphonates are drugs which block bone breakdown and are a standard therapy for patients with low bone density, osteoporosis or breast cancer that has spread to the bone.

If the proposed experiments are effective in mice, the next step will be to test the therapies in patients with breast cancer.

Dr. Thompson was recently recruited to the IU Department of Physical Therapy within the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. He brings unique expertise to this project, as he is a physical therapist with a Ph.D. in biomechanics and movement science with an emphasis on molecular biology and genetics. A nationally acclaimed endocrinologist, Dr. Guise’s research focuses on the long-term effects of cancer therapies on bone. As such, she leads a team of researchers at IU School of Medicine who are investigating ways to improve treatments for bone metastases and muscle weakness. She and her colleagues have identified a specific growth factor and are working to block it from causing cancer to develop and spread.

Theresa Guise, M.D.

Theresa Guise, M.D.

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William Thompson, DPT, Ph.D.

William Thompson, DPT, Ph.D.

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Michael Schug