Titles and Affiliations

Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine
Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center
Indiana University
Indianapolis, Indiana
Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation

Research area

Countering the impact of aromatase inhibitors on muscle and bone health to help patients maintain their physical activity.

Impact

Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) reduce recurrence rates and improve survival in women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, but their side effects are hard on patients. Muscle pain, bone loss, and weakness significantly limit physical activity and adversely affect  quality of life and outcomes for patients on AIs. For her Conquer Cancer Foundation project, supported by BCRF, Dr. Ballinger and her team are working to better understand the full spectrum of the effects of AIs on both the muscular and skeletal systems, and find ways to address these complications.

Progress Thus Far

AIs are known to cause pain and bone loss; however, Dr. Ballinger and her team also discovered significant loss of muscle function. While exercise can restore this, many patients are so deeply affected by AIs that engaging in physical activity is challenging. As an alternative, Dr. Ballinger and her team found that low intensity vibration (LIV) can preserve musculoskeletal strength. To deepen our understanding of AIs effects, the team is performing physical function tests, state of the art imaging, and muscle biopsies of patients on AIs. They also initiated a clinical trial testing LIV, to see if it can serve as a surrogate for exercise and improve patient outcomes. 

What’s next

Dr. Ballinger and her team will comprehensively study exercise capacity, muscle contraction, musculoskeletal tissue quality, and molecular changes in muscle tissue. The LIV trial is open and will ultimately enroll 72 patients.

Biography

Dr. Tarah Ballinger received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and her MD from Indiana University. She completed her internal medicine residency at Vanderbilt University and her oncology fellowship at Indiana University before joining the faculty there in 2017. She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine and is the Sheila D. Ward Scholar in Oncology at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center.

Her clinical practice is devoted to breast oncology and breast cancer prevention in high-risk patients. Her research is centered around how body composition, including bone, muscle and fat, and physical activity affect patients across the cancer continuum, from prevention to late stage disease.