As patients with cancer progress along their disease trajectory, it is common for them to be afflicted by the severe wasting syndrome known as cancer cachexia. These patients experience a profound loss of skeletal muscle mass that leads to severely reduced quality of life, impaired tolerance to chemotherapy and shortened survival. In some forms of cancer the prevalence of cachexia is nearly 80 percent and will be the ultimate cause of death in about one third of patients. There is an increasing recognition that cachexia is a metabolic disorder, characterized by perturbed energy balance and deranged mitochondrial function. The goal in cancer cachexia research is to develop precision based diagnostics and new therapeutic strategies to preserve muscle mass, improve treatment response and ultimately lead to improved cancer outcomes.
The O’Connell Lab focuses on applying integrated metabolomics analyses to develop new precision diagnostics and determine the metabolic drivers of cancer-associated cachexia and other wasting conditions. Laboratory members investigate the use of specific metabolic reprogramming agents targeted toward the resuscitation of a healthy metabolic phenotype in skeletal muscle while not interfering with and potentially even augmenting the action of chemotherapeutic agents.
In addition to cachexia, the O’Connell Lab is actively engaged in studies of bone metabolism related to aging. Using in vitro and in vivo models, researchers examine novel metabolic pathways involved in muscle-bone cross-talk that can help maintain bone health.
The O’Connell Lab is part of the Center for Cachexia Research Innovation and Therapy (CCRIT), an international multidisciplinary research effort dedicated to prevent muscle wasting due to cancer and chemotherapy. Dr. O’Connell is a faculty member in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.