Relieving chronic itch

Have you ever had an unbearable itch that wouldn't go away?  At the world's first center to study chronic itch in Saint Louis, researchers are getting closer to finding answers for desperate patients.

At 81-years old, Don Hodges has battled enemies at war and fought a bout with cancer. But seven years ago, he started combating an itch all over his body.

Don remembers,"I went through so many dermatologists, that we knew each other by first names, and family members and they'd just give up. They couldn't do anything."

Creams, ointments, and medication didn't help. Don's among 15-percent of people who suffer from unexplained chronic itch.

"Study after study has shown that it's worse than chronic pain or comparable. My patients tell me it's often worse," said  Dr. Brian Kim, Washington University School Of Medicine.

Dr. Kim is a researcher at the world's first Center for the Study of itch at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

After discovering an itch molecule, scientists expanded their work, from testing treatments on itchy lab mice to finding relief for desperate patients.

Dr. Kim said, "A lot of people didn't believe that not only that it wasn't a real problem, that it was a problem we could solve at the scientific level."

Doctors finally found a way to help Don.  After several failed treatments, a rheumatoid arthritis drug is giving him relief.  

"Within a week, probably from the day  I took it. And it went away and hasn't come back. "You don't get to be 81 years old by giving up," Don said.

He and four other patients with chronic relief were given tofacitinib (Xeljanz). Researchers said all five patients in the study experienced marked relief from severe itching.

Dr. Kim is optimistic, saying, "It doesn't have to stop here. That's just one drug, one pathway. But we think there's a lot more."

Currently there's no FDA treatment for chronic itch. 


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