Elucidating the pathological role of obesity, inflammation and immunity in cancer related sarcopenia in upper gastrointestinal cancers

Cancer is a devastating disease affecting the majority of us at some point in our lives. Cachexia is a common debilitating consequence of cancer, which is responsible for the deaths of nearly 20% of all cancer patients. It is thought to be driven by inflammation and leads to an involuntary loss of muscle (sarcopenia) and fat. This has serious implications for the patient including a poorer quality of life, reduced response to anti-cancer drugs and reduced survival. In certain cancers, such as oesophageal cancer (food pipe), up to 80% of patients can suffer from cachexia. It is only possible to stabilise or reverse the condition if detected early. However, a major problem is that currently no laboratory test exists to determine if a patient is at risk of developing or has developed cachexia or sarcopenia. Currently muscle and fat mass are quantified by CT scans, which is not suitable for routine monitoring. Many oesophageal cancer patients are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis and so underlying muscle loss can go undetected. This research aims to develop a blood test for cancer-associated inflammation and muscle breakdown markers, which would allow for the routine and repeated testing of cancer patients for evidence of muscle loss during their treatment. We will specifically examine how obesity is connected with muscle loss and muscle quality in oesophageal cancer patients and if this affects their response to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. We will obtain precious muscle samples from sarcopenic cancer patients and examine how inflammation and our immune system may cause muscle breakdown. This knowledge may also provide the key to develop future treatments to slow down or prevent sarcopenia. By preventing devastating and involuntary muscle loss in cancer patients we can improve their quality of life, reduce hospital stays and importantly extend their lives.


Award Date
29 June 2017
Award Value
Principal Investigator
Dr Joanne Lysaght
Host Institution
Trinity College Dublin
Investigator Led Projects