Enteric Neuropathy as a Target to Alleviate Gastrointestinal Side-effects of Chemotherapy

Research Opportunity
PhD students, Masters by Research
Department / Centre
Western Health
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
A/prof Kulmira Nurgali kulmira.nurgali@unimelb.edu.au Personal web page

Summary Chemotherapy is given to most cancer patients before or after surgery. Diarrhoea, constipation, oral mucositis, nausea and vomiting are experienced by 80-90% of patients as gastrointestinal (GI) side-effects of chemotherapeutic medications. As a result, patients often develop malnutrition and dehydration. Early death rates of up to 5% associated with chemotherapy are primarily due to GI toxicity.

Project Details

The GI side-effects often limit the dose of chemotherapy reducing the efficacy of anti-cancer treatment. Chronic post-treatment diarrhoea can persist for over 10 years in cancer survivors. Most drugs used clinically to alleviate GI side-effects of chemotherapy have adverse effects themselves and often have limited efficacy, thus a search for novel therapies is crucial.

The traditional view is that GI side-effects of anti-cancer drugs are due to mucosal damage.  However, while mucosal damage is undoubtedly significant for the acute symptoms associated with chemotherapy, persistence of GI symptoms long after treatment suggests that there is long term damage to GI innervation. The enteric nervous system resides within the gut wall and controls GI functions. Despite mounting evidence for chemotherapy-induced enteric neuropathy, research in this area is scarce.

Our recent published and unpublished studies in both chemotherapy-treated patients and animals revealed damage and death of enteric neurons contributing to GI side-effects. Our studies provide strong evidence that oxidative stress, direct toxicity and inflammation induce enteric neuropathy associated with chemotherapy. Our data demonstrate that co-treatment with neuroprotective and anti-oxidant agents alleviates enteric neuropathy and GI dysfunction as well as potentiates the anti-tumour efficacy of chemotherapy.

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Cancer in Medicine

Research Opportunities

PhD students, Masters by Research
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.

Department / Centre


Research Node

Western Health

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