Using patient’s blood to develop a sensory neuron-based platform for new therapies to treat neuropathy


Competition: EXPLORE Program 2015
Funding: $300,000 / 2 years
Beginning: April 2016

A common side effect of life-saving anti-cancer chemotherapy is damage to specialized nerve cells called “sensory neurons”. These cells transmit information from the brain to every other part of the body for movement and awareness of our environment. The damage causes pain symptoms that are so severe that chemotherapy is often stopped before the end of cancer treatment. This damage to sensory neurons referred to as “Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy” (CIPN) affects 30-40% of cancer patients in Canada. To date there are no medications to prevent or treat CIPN, mainly because of the lack of availability of human peripheral nerves to develop a robust drug screening assay to evaluate drug side-effects of new potential drug candidates.

Using cryopreserved donor blood, the team at McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute has developed a rights-protected technology to generate sufficient quantities of patient-specific peripheral sensory neurons to allow drug discovery. Under chemotherapeutic (Taxol) challenge, these cells display quantifiable dose-dependent reductions of neurite length, without concomitant loss of viability, thereby mimicking the clinical presentation of CIPN. The team has also miniaturised and automated the test such that thousands of CIPN candidate drugs can now be tested. This team will first further improve the screening platform’s robustness and efficiency. Then, using FDA-approved compounds, they will validate the platform’s predictive capabilities by identifying both candidate targets and compounds for prevention of CIPN. This will provide the basis for the identification of the next generation of chemotherapeutics and CIPN drugs.

Mickey Bhatia

McMaster University


Karun Singh
McMaster University