Injury, inflammation and a number of diseases and/or drug treatments for diseases can alter the function of sensory neurons in the periphery, spinal cord, and in the brain that result in pain or altered sensation in the periphery. The long-term goal of the Fehrenbacher laboratory is to understand how diseases and drugs can modulate the function of peripheral sensory neurons to underlie clinical neuronal dysfunction. In addition, investigators in this lab are interested in how sensory neuron function can alter cancer growth and metastasis.
With an increase in survival rates for cancer patients, a growing concern exists regarding the potential of cancer treatments—including the platinum drugs, microtubule targeted agents (taxanes, vinca alkaloids, and epothilones), proteasome inhibitors and immunomodulators—to produce neurotoxicity, which can significantly impair the quality of life in survivors. Of the various side effects of these agents, chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is of major concern because it occurs frequently, is debilitating, and is sometimes irreversible.
No treatment options currently exist to prevent the development or reverse the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and this is due, at least in part, to a lack of understanding regarding the molecular mechanisms by which chemotherapeutics alter neuronal function. Therefore, a broad focus of the Fehrenbacher laboratory is on discerning the mechanisms by which chemotherapeutics alter the sensitivity and morphology of sensory neurons.