Women who survive cancer face a number of long-term challenges after treatment; for many, this can include a loss of their sex drive. The reasons are varied, ranging from self-consciousness about changes to their bodies, such as scaring, or simply from the stress of battling a life-threatening disease.
These sexual aftereffects are often ignored or described as the "price of survival." Currently, no treatments have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat low sexual desire. Pro-sexual research studies are not supported by federal government grants, and the technology expenses associated with this research are larger than philanthropic foundations typically support.
For this reason, researchers at UCLA, led by Nicole Prause, an associate research scientist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, are turning to UCLA Spark, an online crowdfunding platform aimed at providing fundraising support for innovative projects at UCLA. For this effort, the Accelerating Desire in Survivors (ADIS) Project, the fundraising goal is beginning with $7,000. That will allow the researchers to help fulfill a need expressed by the community of cancer survivors, recruit volunteers, document the experiences that women report, and finally, to establish a basis for future clinical trials.
Prause and her colleagues want to test a brain stimulation device that may improve a women's own sexual responsiveness. They believe they finally have the science to know that such devices can target the brain areas that are impaired in women who report problems with low sex drive..
For the study, they will use Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive procedure already approved by the FDA to treat depression that has not responded to traditional treatments. TMS uses magnetic fields to alter activity in the brain. Brain stimulation has demonstrated long-term, positive effects; only one series of treatments may be needed, and it is very safe without long-term side effects.
Women who survive cancer often have long-term effects from the disease or its treatments. Sexual wellness concerns are very common, yet women often feel guilty for even asking about their sexual loss, and doctors are surprisingly shy to ask. The aim of this study is to provide alternative treatment options for women cancer survivors who struggle with their sexual wellness.
The loss of sexual desire is not merely a lifestyle adjustment. It affects intimacy with partners who supported these women through treatment, may impede their ability to have a family, and can contribute to the development of depression. Supporting this research provides a voice to women who want intimacy back in their lives after defeating cancer.
UCLA Spark will host the crowdfunding campaign for 30 days from September 23, 2014 through October 23, 2014. Throughout the month, updates on the project's progress will be provided.
For the study, women who report a loss of pleasure following cancer treatments are invited to attend three TMS treatments on the UCLA campus. Their brain's response to pleasure and their feelings of pleasure will be recorded beginning and after each treatment; patients will also receive an assessment of brain wave response both before and after treatment to show that the TMS treatment successfully improved their sexual response; the data are recorded anonymously and analyzed, and can be used to support larger clinical trials.
The majority of the funding will be used to pay for the cost of the brain stimulation. TMS itself is $350 per stimulation and requires a qualified technician and physician (for safety oversight) to be present, an additional cost. The women who volunteer are compensated for their time and effort in support of this feasibility study.
This would be the very first demonstration of brain stimulation used to increase sexual response in these women.
Importantly, the ADIS project will provide evidence in cancer survivors that would support a larger clinical trial in 2015. Long term, the goal is to develop TMS as an intervention for all women who have low sexual desire and have lost pleasure in their lives.
The study will be led by one of the few research teams in the world with the expertise to conduct such a project:
Nicole Prause (Ph.D.), is a scientist championing neuroscience research into women's sexual behaviors. She is an associate research scientist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and one of the few sexual psychophysiologists (psycho=psychology, physiology=body response) in the United States.
Marco Iacoboni (MD, Ph.D.), is fascinated by human connections and develops cutting edge transcranial brain stimulation with his team (TMS fellow Choi Deblieck, safety oversight physician Allan Wu) at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center. He headlined early research into mirror neurons and has written about them for the public: "Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others."
Donations of any size and scope will make a dramatic impact on the ability of the scientists to research a neglected area of women's health.
In addition to any donations, the researchers ask that individuals champion women's health by sharing the ADIS message on Facebook, and on Twitter using the hashtag #ReclaimRecovery.
UCLA has received an additional $46 million gift from longtime supporter and legendary entertainment visionary David Geffen, a reinvestment that brings the amount of the David Geffen Medical Scholarship Fund to $146 million.