Posted on Sep 25, 2019

USF College of Nursing receives $2.2 million National Cancer Institute grant to study neuromuscular effects of cancer drug

USF College of Nursing receives $2.2 million National Cancer Institute grant to study neuromuscular effects of cancer drug

The National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute has awarded nearly $2.2 million to Constance Visovsky, PhD, RN, ACNP, FAAN, at the University of South Florida College of Nursing to study whether a home-based exercise regimen focusing on gait and balance training and muscle strengthening could lessen the adverse neuromuscular effects many breast cancer survivors face after chemotherapy.

Dr. Visovsky, the principal investigator, will lead a group of USF Health researchers in a five-year study examining whether the 16-week exercise program will decrease the severity of nerve and muscle symptoms from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN).

The research study is significant because it is the first to test the home delivery of an exercise intervention aimed at cancer patients who continue to suffer from CIPN – an irreversible condition characterized by pain, numbness, tingling in the extremities and issues with gait and balance related to receiving the common class of cancer drugs called taxanes.

“If it’s successful, it will provide the only evidence-based intervention for patients suffering from persistent neuropathy from chemotherapy,” said Dr. Visovsky. “And it can be delivered in the home, so it’s easily translated to clinical practice.”

Dr. Constance Visovsky, professor in the University of South Florida College of Nursing, was awarded nearly $2.2 million from the National Cancer Institute to study whether an exercise program could decrease the neuromuscular effects of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

Dr. Visovsky and her team will recruit 312 women with breast cancer who have completed their taxane chemotherapy treatments for at least a year, but who still report CIPN.

Half of the women will undergo the home-based resistance strength training plus gait and balance exercise program and keep an exercise journal, while the remaining 156 will receive an attention control program of educational materials on cancer survivorship.

The study, titled “Home-Based Physical Activity Intervention for Taxane-Induced CIPN,” will assess each participant’s lower extremity muscle strength, gait and balance, nerve conduction, neuropathy symptoms and quality of life at four-week intervals until the end of the 16-week intervention.

Specifically, participants will undergo a sophisticated gait and motion analysis available in the USF Health School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences. Researchers in the USF Health Department of Neurology will perform nerve conduction studies of the sural and peroneal nerves to measure peripheral sensory and motor functions.

Dr. Visovsky said researchers will also collect different variables that may confound the results, such as a person’s age, Body Mass Index, the number of chemotherapy cycles patients received, and any medications patients take to treat the neuropathy pain.

Dr. Visovsky has been conducting research about the neuromuscular effects of cancer chemotherapy for over 20 years, and is hopeful this intervention could help lessen the painful symptoms, reduce the risk of fall and injury, and ultimately improve a breast cancer survivor’s quality of life.

“This has been my career’s work, and it’s the first time I’ve obtained sufficient funding to test this novel approach to symptom management of CIPN,” she said.

Dr. Visovsky will work with a team of USF Health researchers who specialize in biostatistics, neurology, physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences.

The study’s co-investigators include College of Nursing professor Ming Ji, PhD; USF Health Morsani College of Medicine neurology professor Tuan Vu, MD; associate professor Douglas Haladay, DPT; and assistant professor Patricia Teran Wodzinski, PT.

Ellen Eckelman, a physical therapist at Tampa General Hospital, will be a consultant in the study.

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing