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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 02:01 GMT 03:01 UK


Bowel disease drug breakthrough

Doctor examines scans of the bowel

An anti-diabetic drug has been found to dramatically reduce the symptoms of bowel disease that affect millions worldwide.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center have shown that a class of anti-diabetic agents called thiazolidinediones (TZDs) dramatically decrease the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in mice.

They discovered that these drugs inhibit the activation of the body's inflammatory response.

The research suggests that TZDs may be an effective new therapy for IBD in humans.

Writing in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers describe how TZDs significantly reduced the symptoms of IBD in mice, including weight loss, diarrhoea and intestinal bleeding.

After about a week of the treatment, there was an 80% improvement in the mice receiving TZDs.

Exciting discovery

[ image: The drug has been successfully tested on lab mice]
The drug has been successfully tested on lab mice
Gary Wu, assistant professor of medicine at University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, said: "We are excited about this because the mouse model in our study has been used for a long time to study treatments for inflammatory bowel disease, and many pharmacologic agents that are effective in humans with IBD are also effective in this animal model."

There are two main forms of IBD. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, while Crohn's disease can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract.

The symptoms of IBD tend to wax and wane, but can seriously debilitate some patients. They include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Many patients fail to respond to currently available therapies, and some of the drugs currently used to treat moderate to severe IBD, including steroids and other immune modulatory agents, can be toxic to the human system.

Using cell cultures, the researchers are also discovering how TZDs work on a molecular basis.

It is thought that TZDs work by stimulating the production of proteins which block the body's inflammatory response.

The Penn Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center has now started enrolling patients in a clinical trial to see if the drugs will be an effective treatment for ulcerative colitis.

They are using a new generation TZD drug called rosiglitazone (Avandia), which was released several weeks ago for the treatment of diabetes.

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