FRIDAY, May 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — A leukemia drug might also effectively treat severe asthma, a small-scale clinical trial suggests.
Gleevec (imatinib) reduced the “twitchiness” of airways, making them less likely to reflexively constrict when exposed to an allergen or asthma trigger, said senior researcher Dr. Elliot Israel.
“We showed we could decrease the amount of airway twitchiness by a third,” Israel said. “That’s a substantial change, and that was significant compared with the placebo group.”
Israel is director of the respiratory therapy department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The drug also improved overall airway function, an effect researchers hadn’t expected, Israel said.
People whose severe asthma isn’t controlled despite use of high-dose steroid medications are at risk of declining lung function and poor quality of life, the researchers said in background notes.
But, this powerful cancer drug can’t be recommended for them on the basis of this small study, Israel and other specialists noted.
Gleevec fights leukemia by blocking a specific receptor on cancerous white blood cells, inhibiting their ability to multiply and spread, Israel said.
That same action also affects mast cells, a type of white blood cell distributed throughout the body that promotes inflammation and causes allergic reactions, Israel said.
For example, mast cells in the skin are responsible for hives, while mast cells in the lungs have been associated with severe asthma, he said.
“By blocking the signal that helps keep mast cells alive, we were hoping to reduce the number of these cells,” Israel said. “By doing that, we hoped to produce improvements beyond the maximal therapy that these patients with severe asthma are on.”
Israel and his colleagues recruited 62 severe asthma sufferers for the study. All received top-notch asthma treatment,…