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Cancer Drug for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Gleevec May Treat and Perhaps Even Prevent RA, Study in Mice Shows

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 14, 2006 -- A drug commonly used to treat cancer may treat and perhaps even prevent painful rheumatoid arthritis.

A new study shows the cancer drug Gleevec blocked the progression and development of rheumatoid arthritisarthritis in laboratory mice bred to get the disease.

Although the results are preliminary, researchers say they provide a basis for future clinical trials to determine whether Gleevec might be effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis and other types of inflammatory diseases in humans.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system turns on itself for unknown reasons and attacks the joints and, sometimes, organs.

Gleevec is a cancer drug often used to treat leukemialeukemia and some types of gastrointestinal tumors.

New Option in RA Treatment?

Researchers say at least two people who took Gleevec as part of their cancer treatment experienced improvement in their rheumatoid arthritis symptoms while on the drug, which prompted research to investigate it as a potential RA treatment.

In the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers treated mice bred to develop rheumatoid arthritis with Gleevec.

Gleevec prevented the onset of the disease as well as halted progression of established disease in the mice, the report shows.

Researcher Ricardo Paniagua of Stanford University School of Medicine and colleagues say Gleevec appeared to work by inhibiting the function of many of the immune cells that contribute to rheumatoid arthritis.

In further lab tests, Gleevec was shown to affect some cells and cell signaling from tissue specimen taken from a patient with RA.

If these results hold up in human clinical trials, researchers say Gleevec may be a potent new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

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