When patients get treated for cancer, radiation therapy administered to shrink tumors also affects healthy cells in the gastrointestinal tract and causes difficult side effects. Now, a group of University of Florida Health researchers has learned more about how a set of amino acids, formulated as a rehydration drink, helps the small intestine repair itself after radiation therapy.

The human intestinal tract is lined with villi — tiny, fingerlike projections that help the body absorb water, electrolytes and nutrients. Radiation treatments partially destroy the cells that replenish villi, thereby reducing villus height, and decreasing electrolyte and nutrient absorption that causes side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

UF Health researchers found that the rehydrating drink helps to increase villus height and improve electrolyte and nutrient absorption. While researchers already knew that the formulation improved gastrointestinal function, the new findings in mouse models reveal its beneficial action on intestinal stem cells. The findings were published Nov. 23 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

“This is a way to reduce the gastrointestinal complications associated with radiation and chemotherapy. It’s a way to help improve patients’ quality of life during cancer care,” said Sadasivan Vidyasagar, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of radiation oncology.

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