Translational approach to the characterisation, early identification and treatment of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy
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Background Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a common dose-limiting toxicity with significant sequelae impacting prognosis and quality of life. The natural history and pathophysiological mechanisms of CIPN are unclear. Equally, the lack of systematic approach to diagnosis and assessments contribute to difficulty identifying at risk patients with implications on symptom burden. Effective management of CIPN is also difficult due to limited treatment options. To try and address this challenging clinical problem, this thesis aimed to adopt a translational approach to: 1) characterisation and early identification of the development of CIPN in cancer patients receiving neurotoxic chemotherapy and 2) explore topical treatment options in patients with chronic peripheral neuropathic pain. Methodology In the CIPN study, a mixed cohort of colorectal, gynaecological and lung cancer patients receiving neurotoxic chemotherapy (platinum agents and taxanes) were assessed prospectively, at baseline (prior to initiating chemotherapy), during cycles (every 3 weeks) and post-treatment (every 3 months) for up to 12 months (cumulative 261 assessments). Comprehensive longitudinal clinical characterisation consisted of the integration of quantitative sensory testing (QST), objective measure of function (grooved pegboard test), patient-reported outcomes and in vivo confocal microscopy to provide insight into the clinical course and potential psychophysical biomarkers of CIPN during and after chemotherapy. In the pilot intervention study, patients with chronic, complex cancer treatment related peripheral neuropathic pain received a single application of high concentration 8% capsaicin patch. Assessments conducted at baseline, 4 weeks and 12 weeks included patient-reported outcomes and QST with an exploratory application of in vivo confocal microscopy in a case. Results In the CIPN study, 33 patients when compared to 33 age and gender matched healthy controls displayed thermal hyperalgesia, sensorimotor impairment and increased resting heart rate prior to initiating neurotoxic chemotherapy. Characterisation of somato-sensory profile demonstrated dysfunction of the various types of primary afferent nerves (Aβ, Aδ and C). Assessing the change over time from baseline to during cycles and post-treatment follow up, revealed signs and symptoms as early as cycle 2 with an increase in the later cycles and 3 months post-treatment follow up. A greater burden was observed at 12 months in comparison to baseline. Significant changes were observed in QST parameters indicating both small and large fibre deficits. Interesting associations were observed for example with tactile deficits in the upper and lower limb and patient-reported outcomes. The repeated measures model provided an opportunity to distil the relationship between subjective and objective measures of CIPN. The subclinical findings at baseline however did not translate to obvious predictors of CIPN development. The exploratory use of in vivo confocal microscopy (45 healthy controls, 9 patients) demonstrated correlation with current assessment tools (QST). Analysis from the pilot intervention study of 20 patients revealed clinically significant improvement in pain in a subset at 4 and 12 weeks post-treatment. Conclusion Overall the combination of subjective and objective measures utilised in the prospective characterisation of this mixed cohort of cancer patients provided a useful paradigm for qualifying and quantifying the trajectory of CIPN related peripheral nerve damage and symptom burden with additional contribution from the novel in vivo confocal microscopy work. In capturing the varied spectrum of phenotypes, this approach may provide insight into the complexities of the underlying neurobiological mechanisms. The baseline subclinical sensory, motor and autonomic nerve dysfunction implicate a cancer-mediated process possibly contributing to CIPN. Although the preliminary investigation of baseline predictors of CIPN was inconclusive, thermal pain threshold warrant further investigation. These findings highlight the need to further address prediction and risk stratification in larger studies. The exploratory intervention study suggests that patients with chronic neuropathic pain may receive some benefit in pain severity, function and mood with effect continuing at 12 weeks post-treatment. This research warrants further investigation in larger cohorts.