What Is Cachexia?

Cachexia is an incurable condition that leads to the progressive deterioration of skeletal muscle and fat tissue. Sometimes referred to as a “wasting disease,” cachexia can be debilitating, causing weakness, mental fatigue and pronounced weight loss.

Frequently associated with cancer, cachexia also can develop in patients diagnosed with other diseases such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease and AIDS.

About Cancer Cachexia

Cachexia develops when signals released from tumor cells interact – or cross talk – with different tissues throughout the body. This triggers the loss of body weight, muscle mass and weakness.

As many as 50 percent of cancer patients experience progressive weight loss, and nearly 80 percent of patients diagnosed with advanced cancers develop cachexia. This condition is estimated to cause anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of all cancer deaths.

Cancer cachexia is more frequently found in, but not limited to, patients with certain types of cancer, such as pancreatic and gastric cancer, lung, esophageal, colorectal and head and neck cancer.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Cachexia Diagram
(Source: Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 2018 Jan 18;4:17105)

Mission: Research Through Collaboration

At the OSUCCC – James, the cancer cachexia program team’s mission is to work collaboratively, reaching across multiple medical disciplines to create and conduct meaningful research that will improve the lives of patients diagnosed with cancer cachexia.

The cancer cachexia Program’s team of surgeons, oncologists, biologists, immunologists, physiologists, pharmacologists and more work tirelessly to find new avenues of support and more effective treatments for patients with cancer cachexia.

Core to the cancer cachexia program is a monthly multidisciplinary meeting where the OSUCCC – James team of research scientists, physicians, fellows and staff members coalesce to present their scientific projects, share feedback, discuss investigations and identify additional opportunities for collaborations.

The result of this highly focused collaborative effort is an extensive portfolio of groundbreaking studies that explore novel therapies to slow – and potentially stop – cachexia progression. From examining how to rebuild lost tissues and strengthen the heart and diaphragm to determining the nature of cachexia through cellular metabolism and signaling, this world-renowned team of research scientists is determined to discover the best possible treatment, offering improved outcomes, faster responses and fewer side effects.

Recent research projects include:

  • Studying cachectic signaling in muscle and fat tissue from pancreatic cancer patients undergoing surgery. This cachexia tissue bank represents a rare resource to study tumor-host interactions in a patient population with a high frequency of cachexia, and it seeks to identify biomarkers and potential treatment targets of cancer cachexia.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 

Collaboration Accomplishments

In addition to the many research projects right here at the OSUCCC – James, the cancer cachexia program’s team of researchers have been the driving force behind the bi-annual Cancer Cachexia Conference. With support from the National Institutes of Health, this forum brings world-renowned cachexia research scientists together to exchange ideas, share clinical observations and discuss findings.

Who We Are

The OSUCCC – James cancer cachexia program team comprises several renowned researchers from across numerous medical and research disciplines. Each team member has a specific and specialized focus that brings unique expertise to understanding the dynamics of cachexia and its impact on patients with cancer.

Additionally, the team collaborates with other talented research experts in adjacent areas focused on understanding the complexities of cachexia. Doing so opens a range of methodological approaches, novel techniques and advanced insights that lead to better understanding of the disease and, ultimately, improving the lives of patients diagnosed with cancer cachexia.

The cancer cachexia program team includes:

Department of Surgery

Department of Medical Oncology

Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Department of Human Sciences

College of Pharmacy

Department of Radiation Oncology

Physiology and Cell Biology

  • Noah Weisleder, PhD
  • Loren E. Wold PhD, FAHA, FAPS

College of Dentistry

  • Peter J. Reiser, MS, PhD

Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics

Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center Target Validation Shared Resource

  • Reena Shakya, PhD

Find a Scientific Publication