School of Medicine

Potential new therapy relieves chronic itch

MD/PhD student Landon K. Oetjen (left) and Brian S. Kim, MD (center), examine chronic itch patient Donald E. Hodges, whose symptoms improved following treatment with the arthritis drug tofacitinib. Kim and Oetjen tested the strategy in Hodges and four others after mouse studies suggested it might interfere with a pathway through which immune system molecules act directly on nerve cells to make people feel itchy. (Photo: Karen Elshout)

FDA-approved arthritis drug may work in new ways to fight itch

From the WashU Newsroom

The roots of chronic itching have long remained a mystery. Meanwhile, those with the condition suffer from an unrelenting and sometimes debilitating urge to scratch. Now, new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has identified immune signaling molecules that are essential for activating neurons in the skin to cause chronic itching.

In a small study, the researchers also discovered that people with a type of itch from an unknown cause, a condition called chronic idiopathic pruritus, improve when given tofacitinib (Xeljanz), a drug approved for rheumatoid arthritis. Earlier attempts to treat their itching with other anti-inflammatory drugs had not been successful, but within one month of taking tofacitinib, all five patients in the study experienced marked relief from severe itching.

The findings are published Sept. 8 in the journal Cell.

“These patients often itch day and night, and for some of them, the urge to scratch never goes away,” said senior investigator Brian S. Kim, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and co-director of Washington University’s Center for the Study of Itch. “Although this was a small study, the patients taking tofacitinib experienced dramatic improvements in terms of their itch, allowing them to sleep, stop scratching and return to living more productive lives. Obviously, we’ll need to do a larger study, but the early results are very encouraging.”

  Read more at the Source.