Testing Cancer Drug On Scleroderma Patients
Physicians at Northwestern Memorial Hospital are studying the effects of an anti-cancer drug to treat patients with scleroderma, a rare, incurable autoimmune rheumatic disease that leads to hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues. Scleroderma affects an estimated 300,000 people in the United States and can often attack the lungs, heart, kidneys and intestinal tract, and sometimes lead to death.
The study is the first of its kind to examine if Gleevec, a cancer drug commonly used to treat leukemia, will treat the skin thickness in scleroderma patients by blocking the pathway that causes fibrosis. Patients enrolled in the clinical trial will receive daily oral doses of Gleevec for six months and will be evaluated initially on a weekly basis at Northwestern Memorial, one of only three centers nationwide participating in the study. Others include Johns Hopkins and Boston University Medical Center.
John Varga, MD, rheumatologist at Northwestern Memorial, John and Nancy Hughes Distinguished Professor in Rheumatology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study, said this could be a big step forward for people diagnosed with scleroderma. "Based on recent research performed by investigators at the Feinberg School, Gleevec shows potential efficacy in reducing the abnormal skin changes associated with scleroderma."
The exact cause of Scleroderma, a chronic disease most commonly found in women between the ages of 30 and 40, remains unknown. Through continued research, Northwestern Memorial physicians hope to identify treatments to target the disease and improve the quality of life for patients living with Scleroderma.
"We hope that the use of Gleevec for a sustained period of time will decrease the symptoms of skin hardening, and potentially slow the progression of this devastating disease," adds Dr. Varga.