Cachexia Illustration FINAL

What is cachexia?

Cachexia is the progressive deterioration of skeletal muscle and fat tissue. Cachexia is caused by cancer and is involuntary; it is not caused by dieting or exercise. The main effects on cancer patients are physical deterioration, weakness, mental fatigue, decreased quality of life and pronounced weight loss.

Cachexia People copy

Whom does cachexia affect?

Over 50 percent of patients with cancer have progressive weight loss. In advanced cancers, cachexia is seen in about 80 percent of cases. Cachexia is estimated to be responsible for about 20-40 percent of all cancer deaths. Cachexia is also seen in a number of other diseases, including congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease and AIDS.

Cachexia Illustration

How does cachexia work?

Cancer cachexia develops when molecules are released from tumor cells, causing the loss of appetite (anorexia) and decreasing nutrient intake. Lack of nutrients then causes the body to use up its energy reserves in fat cells and skeletal muscle. The depleted energy stores are used by cancer cells as fuel sources to grow and survive.

Ohio State Cachexia Research

Ohio State’s Cancer Cachexia Program benefits from faculty membership that covers several clinical and laboratory research perspectives in cachexia, a progressive deterioration of skeletal muscle and fat tissue that often afflicts patients with cancer and other diseases.

This faculty integration, which is enhanced by facilities and resources at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), promotes interactions across typically isolated research areas, accelerating research activities. From efficient use of patient tumor samples to development of animal models that better mimic human disease, our team of surgeons, oncologists, biologists, physiologists and pharmacologists works together to impact patient lives.

Examples of our research include:

  • OSUCCC – James pharmacologists, immunologists and molecular biologists studying how an Ohio State-produced drug, AR-42, helps preserve muscle and fat tissue through metabolic changes in mice with colon and lung cancer.
  • Human nutrition researchers studying the role of lipid (fat) metabolism in the liver, muscles and fatty tissue during the early stages of cachexia to understand more about preventing the loss of fat and skeletal muscle.
  • OSUCCC – James geneticists and biochemists examining the role of microRNAs (small RNA molecules that regulate gene expression) that are secreted by tumor cells in promoting cell death in skeletal muscle stem cells. 
  • Overall, some members of our research team are looking into novel therapies to slow or stop cachexia progression. Others are focusing on how to rebuild lost tissues and strengthen the heart and diaphragm. Still others are studying the nature of cachexia through cellular metabolism and signaling.

Program Activities

The primary activity for the Ohio State Cancer Cachexia Program is a monthly seminar series that enables researchers to interact, present their scientific projects and receive feedback from the group. Ohio State faculty and visiting faculty can discuss new approaches or collaborations, while trainees are exposed to a broad range of research avenues in cachexia. This series also enables trainees to discuss their projects with visiting cachexia experts.


The Ohio State Cancer Cachexia Program co-organizes international conferences that bring together international cachexia experts to discuss the latest findings from laboratory research and clinical trials.

2012 Cachexia Logo

The first conference (Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutic Approaches), held in Boston in 2012, was co-sponsored by The Ohio State University and the Society for Sarcopenia, Cachexia and Wasting Disorders (SWCD).

2014 Cachexia Logo

The second conference (Evolving Mechanisms and Therapies), held in Montreal in 2014, was co-sponsored by the National Cancer Institute branch of the National Institutes of Health with The Ohio State University, Indiana University and McGill University.

2016 Cachexia Logo 

The third conference (Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutic Approaches) was held Sept. 23-25, 2016, in Washington, D.C. The goals of this meeting were to: 1) promote new approaches to identifying the causes of cancer cachexia; and 2) increase awareness on clinical trial design and outcome measures.

Research Team

The Ohio State Cancer Cachexia Program research team is a multidisciplinary team that consists of Ohio State faculty from various colleges across the campus, research staff and research fellows. Learn more about each team member below.

Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics

Carlo_Croce_ImageCarlo Croce, MD

Department of Human Sciences

Martha_Belury_ImageMartha Belury, PhD

Department of Surgery

Mary DillhoffMary Dillhoff, MD

David EvansDavid Evans, M.D.

Physiology and Cell Biology

Noah WeislederNoah Weisleder, PhD

Loren WoldLoren E. Wold PhD, FAHA, FAPS

Department of Gastroenterology

Philip HartPhilip Hart, MD

College of Dentistry

Peter ReiserPeter J. Reiser, MS, PhD

Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center Target Validation Shared Resource

Reena Shakya, PhD

Find a Scientific Publication