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Chemo Drug Improves Crohn's Symptoms
      07/14/03 04:09 PM
HeatherAdministrator

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Chemo Drug Improves Crohn's Symptoms - Immune-Boosting Therapy Opposite of Standard Treatment

By Sid Kirchheimer
WebMD Medical News

Nov. 7, 2002 -- The painful and debilitating symptoms of Crohn's disease may be eased or even eliminated by a seemingly unlikely source -- a drug primarily used to boost immunity. A study shows Leukine to be a unique and promising new approach to treat the disease.


The irony: Crohn's has been thought to result from an overactive immune system, and traditional therapies have attempted to suppress -- not enhance -- immune activity.


Yet researchers discovered that the drug Leukine, which strengthens immune response by increasing the size and function of white blood cells, offered "significant improvement" in symptom relief for 12 of 15 Crohn's patients -- that's 80% -- who were part of the first study using this therapy.


Of those, eight went into remission, says researcher Joshua Korzenik, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine and a Crohn's specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.


"It's a small study, but the outcome exceeded our expectations, especially since people were saying that the idea of stimulating immune systems that are already revved up is like throwing oil onto a raging fire," he tells WebMD. "While this treatment approach certainly isn't prime-time yet, we're extremely excited because it offers a different approach and new understanding to a disease that has defied explanation."


His findings, published in the Nov. 9 issue of The Lancet, are now the subject of a follow-up study at 30 sites throughout the U.S. If future findings are similarly promising, Leukine might be available for Crohn's patients within five years, says Korzenik. It is usually used in cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.


Leukine could provide some relief to a baffling condition that plagues nearly 500,000 Americans, causing extreme pain, diarrhea, ulcers, and other inflammation in the intestines.


"What's particularly heinous about Crohn's is the typical onset occurs in the teens or early 20s, a time when people are establishing their self-identity," notes researcher Brian Dieckgraefe, MD, PhD, also at Washington University. "So, as if going through your teens isn't bad enough, these patients also have severe daily abdominal pain, diarrhea, intestinal ulcers and abscesses."


Therapy for Crohn's patients currently involves several immune-suppressing drugs, including steroids. But many cause side effects not experienced by the test subjects using Leukine, says Korzenik. Only one medication is specifically approved by the FDA to treat Crohn's -- Remicade, which is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.


"But Remicade requires continuous infusion, whereas Leukine is injected, so it's a lot easier to administer," notes Seymour Katz, MD, of New York University School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American College of Gastroenterology. "Does this mean that Leukine is the only answer for Crohn's? No. Does it offer some hope for Crohn's patients? Yes. Is this an exciting finding that brings a new approach to treatment? Absolutely."

© 2002 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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