Hormone May Be Skin's Friend in Disfiguring Disorder
June 5, 2000 -- A hormone called relaxin, which is normally found in
pregnant women, seems to help some people with a disease that leads to thick
skin and hardening of internal organs known as scleroderma, a study in the June
5 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine reports.
"It's too late for me to use relaxin, since I've been diagnosed with
scleroderma since 1959," says Mary Mannillo, co-leader of the Scleroderma
Federation Tri-State Chapter in Connecticut. "However, I visited with
patients, who were enrolled in this trial and since it has ended, and they have
been begging to be put back on the drug. They just feel so much better when
they're on it, even though they have to wear a pump."
Scleroderma is a disease that causes thick skin, stiff joints, and hardening
of many of the internal organs such as the lungs, making it difficult to
breath. Treatment for the disease is currently not very effective, especially
for the skin changes. Researchers have known since the early 1960s that relaxin
obtained from pigs helped skin changes due to scleroderma, but this new study
looks at relaxin that is obtained from humans. Pig relaxin is no longer
available for use in the U.S.
The trial enrolled almost 70 people with scleroderma around the country, and
treated them with relaxin for 24 weeks. The patients had to wear a pump 24
hours a day containing the medicine, which was given continuously through a
needle inserted under the skin. Only people who had been diagnosed for five
years or less, and who had skin problems related to scleroderma, were able to
participate. Other studies will be needed to see how relaxin works in those
who've had the disease longer than five years.
The study found that patients taking relaxin experienced reduced skin
thickening and some decrease in other problems associated with the disease,
such as shortness of breath and painful joints.
"I'm very encouraged by the results of this study. This is the first
properly run study showing that anything works," Naomi Rothfield, MD, tells
WebMD. Rothfield is professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut and
one of the study's authors.
"Scleroderma can be very disfiguring," Mannillo says. "If
something can help people avoid this aspect of the disease, it would help a
Barbara White, MD, who was not involved in the study, says, "Right now
the current state of the art in the treatment of scleroderma is based on the
organ that's involved, and there are a number of very useful treatments for
particular organ involvement depending on its extent and severity. But for skin
thickening, we don't have an effective treatment, and this may provide an
addition to our [list of medicines to try]." White is professor of medicine
at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
- The hormone relaxin, which is commonly found in pregnant women, seems to
help patients suffering from skin thickening associated with the disease
- A study that tested relaxin treatment in about 70 scleroderma patients
brought promising results; many participants wanted to continue with the
therapy even though they had to wear a drug pump 24 hours a day.
- An observer notes there are therapies now that treat other affected organs,
but none help the skin. This treatment may prove to be a welcome addition to
treating scleroderma after more research is done.