Penn State research shows withdrawal drug offers relief for Crohn's sufferers

A Penn State College of Medicine pilot study suggests that a drug used to ease symptoms of alcohol and drug addiction may also bring relief to people with Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the intestine that affects an estimated 500,000 Americans.

In the study, patients with diagnosed Crohn's disease were treated with a low dose of naltrexone, an FDA-approved drug used to ease symptoms of withdrawal from substance abuse, and monitored for improvement of symptoms for 12 weeks. Quality of life surveys were given every four weeks for 16 weeks.

Jill P. Smith, a gastroenterology specialist and researcher at the College of Medicine and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, presented her findings recently in Los Angeles at the National Association of Gastroenterologists annual Digestive Diseases Week conference.

The results showed that 89 percent of participants showed an improvement with therapy, while 67 percent achieved remission of symptoms. The only side effect to treatment was sleep disturbance in some patients.

Typical treatment for Crohn's involves using steroids or corticosteroids, which suppress the immune system and can have other toxic side effects. Treatment is often time-intensive and expensive, as well.

"This is a novel approach to treating a common disease, and it's simple, it's safe, and it costs far less than current standards of treatment," Smith said. "We don't yet know the exact mechanisms involved in how it works, but we're working on that as well."

Smith initiated the study using a Dean's Feasibility Grant -- a program designed to encourage investigators to design trials in their area of expertise and seek outside funding. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded the College of Medicine $500,000 for the team to continue the study.

In a related study, Smith and other College of Medicine researchers are studying the chemical and molecular mechanisms involved in suppression of inflammatory responses in the intestine when animals are treated with naltrexone. Smith's second team is awaiting a decision on an NIH grant application for that study.

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Team members on the first study include Heather Stock, Sandra Bingaman and David Mauger, Department of Health Evaluation Sciences, and Ian Zagon, Department of Neural and Behavioral Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine.

Members of the second study team include Gail L. Matters, and John F. Harms, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Leo Fitzpatrick, Department of Surgery; and Anuj Parikh and Nicholas Nilo, Department of Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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