New hope for treating “chemo brain,” with a side of the joy of science

New hope for treating “chemo brain,” with a side of the joy of science

A few years ago, one of my coworkers caused a minor fracas by showing up at our annual holiday party with buttons that said “Ask me about microglia.” Everyone wanted one; our crew of science communicators is very nerdy.

Microglia belong to a group of brain cells — glia — whose secrets were unlocked by the late Stanford neuroscientist Ben Barres, MD, PhD. Our team’s enthusiasm for these cells was stoked by one of my fellow writers, who would periodically come to meetings bubbling with excitement about new research from the Barres lab. It made me wish I was writing about these cool cells.

Then a neuroscientist on my beat asked me to cover her team’s newest discovery: Microglia play a key role in “chemo brain,” a problem affecting millions of cancer survivors. Known more formally as cognitive impairment following cancer treatment, chemo brain is especially severe for children.