10. October 2018

Researching the effect of exercise therapy on cancer patients

Dr Elisabeth Edvardsen describes demanding, but thrilling days at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She is the centre’s second visiting researcher supported by a grant from AKTIV Against Cancer and the Kavli Trust.

“My days here are demanding and hectic” says Elisabeth Edvardsen, Skyping us from her office on 47th street and Lexington Avenue, New York. She is visiting the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for ten weeks, which is the second largest cancer hospital in the US. Each year, the hospital treats about 80,000 cancer patients.

Elisabeth Edvardsen in her office in NYC. Photo: private

Exercise therapy in patients with lung cancer

Normally, Elisabeth Edvardsen is an exercise physiologist and researcher at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and at the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at Oslo University Hospital. Normally, her focus is to evaluate the effect of treatment and exercise therapy after lung cancer surgery.

But right now, with funding from AKTIV Against Cancer and the Kavli Trust, she’s on a ten week leave as a visitor researcher at Dr Lee W. Jones and his team.

Exciting days

She describes busy but exciting days at the internationally renowned cancer research centre. Every Monday the entire research team meets to keep each other up to speed on publications, recruitment of patients, and the exercise status for each patient in ongoing projects.

“Everyone is welcoming and generous. This is an incredibly motivating place to do research. Dr Jones and his team have been so helpful and open, and I’ve worked with such interesting projects during my stay,” she says.

“Here, we focus on several projects simultaneously, and the team stays in touch from early morning until late evening. Moreover, the main hospital covers a large, international environment, with researchers, surgeons and oncologists visiting from all over the world.”

World leader in the exercise oncology field

Dr Lee W. Jones is one of the world’s leading researchers on the effect of exercise before, during and after cancer therapy. The projects at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that receive support from AKTIV Against Cancer and the Kavli Trust all share the same overarching goal: to identify what characterises cancer tumours that are affected by exercise.

Quality of research

Within the field of exercise oncology, new, interesting results emerge at an impressive rate. As this is a relatively new field, part of the research effort is focused on quality control of previous studies.

“Being meticulous about research quality is crucial. Research on exercise oncology must keep the same high standard as research on medication. The dose response to exercise is an important aspect of this,” Edvardsen says.

A colleague in Canada

It’s a little over 10.30 in New York, and soon, Edvardsen has a video conference with a member of her team based in Toronto, Canada. Together, the two evaluate the quality of highly rated studies.

“He’s very good at systematically scoring each study. He has also helped me set up a programme that analyses the results of another large study I’ve been working on,” Edvardsen says.

“Here, we have high-level interdisciplinary research across national borders!”

Personalised exercise programmes for cancer patients

Another project Edvardsen is involved in aims to develop models that identify exercise responders from non-exercise responders.

“With these models we are trying to a greater extent to personalise exercise therapy to each patient, like we do today during general cancer treatment. It’s all about exercise is medicine,” she says.

“This procedure of systemising the exercise response to the physiological characteristics of the patients may also be transferred to other studies, including the research we are doing in Norway.”

A rewarding stay

Elisabeth Edvardsen looks forward to every single day of her remaining three weeks in New York, and she wants to come back next year.

“This is challenging and rewarding, and truly inspiring. I’m even stronger in my belief that we need to include systematic exercise in cancer treatment in Norway,” Dr Edvardsen says. She bids the Kavli Trust goodbye, hurrying on to another Skype conversation – this time, with her colleague in Toronto.

Read more about the partnership between AKTIV Against Cancer and the Kavli Trust

Top photo: Elisabeth Edvardsen and the general manager of AKTIV Against Cancer, Helle Aanesen, meeting in Oslo just before Edvardsen’s departure to New York. Photo: Hanne Eide Andersen/The Kavli Trust