Growth hormone enema helps ulcerative colitis

Wednesday, July 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A genetically engineered growth hormone may be a powerful new weapon against ulcerative colitis, a hard-to-control ailment affecting an estimated 500,000 Americans, a study suggests.

Ulcerative colitis sufferers have sores inside their large intestines that cause abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Doctors do not know what causes the disease.

But after two weeks of enemas of epidermal growth factor, 10 of 12 patients no longer had urgent bowel trouble in the middle of the night and were passing solid, blood-free stools, said Dr. Jeremy M.D. Nightingale, one of the researchers.

Only one of the 12 people in the comparison group did that well.

However, the study was small and the treatment should be compared to steroid and anti-inflammatory enemas already found to work, cautioned Nightingale, a gastroenterologist at England's Leicester Royal Infirmary.

He looked at 24 people with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis affecting only the rectum and the last third of the large intestine.

Twelve got enemas of epidermal growth factor, a protein produced in the salivary glands. Twelve got enemas without EGF. All 24 were also given oral mesalamine, an anti-inflammatory related to aspirin.

The biggest potential drawback is that doctors do not know whether growth factors increase the chance of cancer by boosting cell proliferation.

Dr. Richard Blumberg, a gastroenterologist at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston and chairman of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America's national scientific advisory committee, said growth factors also are likely to be more expensive than mesalamine or steroid enemas, which already have been shown to work.

The growth hormone enemas are not a cure, though the effects did last awhile, Nightingale said. By the end of three months, nine patients on a placebo needed steroids to restore order to their bowels, compared with four on EGF. By the end of six months, every patient who got placebo enemas needed steroids, compared with six EGF patients.