Matthew Martens Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

Experiments will determine if ketone supplements can protect kids from chemotherapy-induced heart failure later in life

As a result of advanced diagnosis and treatment, many children survive their cancers. In fact, the five-year survival rate for childhood cancer is now almost 80 per cent. While this is a great achievement, some of these children can develop long-term side effects of anticancer treatments later in life.

Matthew Martens is studying how dietary ketone supplementation may prevent chemotherapy-induced heart injury in early life, and how that impacts cardiac function later on. Ketones are produced in the liver when our bodies burn fat for energy and have been shown to reduce cardiac inflammation.

The widely-used chemotherapy drug doxorubicin is an effective tool to treat childhood cancer. It is so powerful, however, that it can sometimes cause minor injury to the heart while it eradicates the disease. That damage may initially go unnoticed but can contribute to heart failure in adulthood.

“We want kids to go on to live a healthy, full, and long life,” says Martens, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pediatrics. “These kids deserve better and figuring out ways to make this a reality drives me every day to do this work.”

The challenge he has set for himself is to learn how doxorubicin damages the heart, in order to determine if and how we can prevent that.

Martens’ project builds on previous WCHRI-supported work completed by  supervisor Jason Dyck that suggests cardiac inflammation may be the culprit, specifically in the case of doxorubicin treatment in children. He is putting this information together with another finding from the Dyck Lab that ketones inhibit cardiac inflammation in adults.

Using lab models, Martens’ experiments will be the first of their kind to determine if ketone therapy is a possible intervention strategy.

“Imagine a future where a child attends their chemotherapy appointment with a bottle of ketones in hand, allowing them to receive their anti-cancer therapy, while the ketones protect their hearts from failure later in life. This would dramatically enhance the post-cancer quality of life in childhood and well through adulthood,” says Martens.

Matthew Martens is supervised by Jason Dyck in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. His fellowship has been funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.