At a glance

How chemotherapy damages the immune system: The cause of pain in adult survivors of childhood cancer

Lead researcher

Dr Richard Hulse


Nottingham Trent University


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Adults who are treated for childhood cancer suffer from chemotherapy-induced pain. Unfortunately, current painkillers are not effective.

RH Dr Richard Hulse

Dr Richard Hulse and his team at Nottingham Trent University are working to uncover the pathways through which chemotherapy, a cancer treatment used to kill cancer cells, causes patients to experience pain.

Several adults who have been treated for childhood cancer report ongoing pain after chemotherapy. Dr Hulse has found that exposure to chemotherapy in early life can damage nerve cells in the body that detect pain, called ‘nociceptors’, altering how pain is perceived as a patient grows into adulthood.

The team are trying to understand the mechanisms by which platinum-based chemotherapy damages these nerve cells. Research tells us that chemotherapy damages nociceptor cells by interrupting the normal function of mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, whose purpose is to produce energy. By stopping nociceptors from producing energy in this way, chemotherapy effectively turns a nerve cell 'on'. In normal cases, the body's natural immune system would help to keep mitochondria working properly, but chemotherapy prevents this from happening.

Through multiple experiments, the team aim to explore how the nociceptor and immune system interact. Their work could uncover more about the role played by the immune system in preserving mitochondria function in pain-detecting nerve cells, potentially helping to identify new treatments for chemotherapy-induced sensory neuropathy (nerve pain).