STUDIES DRUG TO TREAT LUNG COMPLICATIONS
In a nationwide study now under way, doctors at the University of Illinois at Chicago hope to find a treatment for lung damage caused by a rare and disfiguring disease called scleroderma.
Pulmonologists and rheumatologists at UIC, in collaboration with physicians at other medical institutions, are focusing on a drug called cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). Limited studies suggested that it may be effective in stabilizing and possibly correcting scleroderma lung disease.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease and can be very disfiguring when it affects the skin, according to Drs. Dean Schraufnagel and John Varga, professors of medicine at the UIC College of Medicine and principal investigators of the study in Chicago. "Unfortunately," said Schraufnagel, "about 40 percent of patients with scleroderma develop serious lung disease. In fact, it is now the leading cause of death for scleroderma patients."
Scleroderma is a chronic disease in which certain cells produce too much of a protein called collagen. The first symptoms are a thickening and hardening of the skin on the hands, feet and face. As the disease progresses, the skin loses its elasticity and tightens. Eventually, fingers may become difficult to bend, and hands and feet may curl because of the tautness of the skin. Excess collagen is also deposited in joints, blood vessels and internal organs, including the lungs. If the disease affects the lungs, individuals may experience shortness of breath, and later, more serious respiratory problems.
About 100,00 to 165,00 people in the United States suffer from scleroderma - three to five times more women than men.
Cyclophosphamide is a strong anti-inflammatory agent that also suppresses the immune system. The drug is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating a variety of illnesses and cancers, including malignant lymphoma, multiple myeloma, leukemia and neuroblastoma. Although not yet approved for the treatment of scleroderma, it has been sanctioned for investigational use in this study.
The two-year clinical trial will involve 163 patients nationwide. All medicines and procedures, including screening and follow-up tests, will be free to qualified participants. For more information on the study, potential candidates may call Patricia Saffold, clinical coordinator at (312) 996-7261.
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