In Residence

Internal Medicine resident leads research into chemotherapy toxicity of military veterans

Vital Signs » Spring 2020

Sahana Venkatesh, M.D., a first-year internal medicine resident at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, is leading research into the toxicity of chemotherapy treatments on military veterans. The results of the effort may one day help health care providers to better tailor chemotherapy treatments to veterans suffering from cancer.

Dr. Venkatesh, who grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio, attended Northeast Ohio Medical University. After completing her Doctor of Medicine degree, she matched at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. 

Her study has recently begun, but it has already counted survey responses from 15 different veteran patients who have cancerous diseases. The surveys seek to learn about how each veteran responds to chemotherapy treatments.

Venkatesh is working with Dr. Geetika Kumar, associate professor of internal medicine and the palliative medicine program director. She is also working with Dr. Srinivasu Chamarthy, a senior hematology-oncology fellow.

“I am extremely interested in hematology and oncology and this project was being developed by my mentors at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center,” Venkatesh said. “I wanted to become an active member in quality improvement at the hospital. The project is so interesting and it certainly has the means to make lasting changes in care.”

The ultimate goal is to create a quality improvement study, which means Venkatesh and others will look at current medical practices to see what can be done better. With this effort, they will use a toxicity score developed by the Cancer and Aging Research Group (CARG). The group’s mission is to unite geriatric oncology researchers across the nation in a collaborative way to design and implement clinical trials that improve the care of older adults with cancer.

Venkatesh and others are seeking to quantify the risks associated with administering chemotherapy for each patient.

“We hope to be able to reduce patients' dose of chemotherapy based on their toxicity scores,” Venkatesh said. “We are tailoring the project so that the data we obtain is valid and applicable.”

The CARG toxicity score requires calculations using the patient’s responses to a questionnaire. The survey is well suited to their disease state, and seeks to find how their bodies respond to chemotherapy treatments.

The numerical score that is calculated shows the overall risk of side effects associated with giving each patient chemotherapy. These are known to include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, and mouth sores, among others.

“We are still in the early stages of this research in that we are gathering patient data,” Venkatesh said. “We hope to see that using this score in our veterans with cancer will help us quantify the overall risk associated with starting chemotherapy to better guide treatment choices.”

The next step for the researchers is to gather more survey responses and analyze the data. Venkatesh and others are looking to see if their interventions are effective and how they can be applied to clinical practice.

“We hope that the findings can be used to improve our ability to predict major side effects and adverse outcomes in our veterans with cancer,” Venkatesh said. “Hopefully this can help guide treatment decisions for oncologists.”


—Daniel Kelly

Last edited on 04/24/2020.