Studies point out that a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis has been found effective in reducing inflammation in patients with Graves' eye disease after steroids failed.
Graves' eye disease is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and fatty deposits in the eye muscles and connective tissue surrounding the eye. The symptoms include pronounced bulging eyes, retracted eyelids, dry eyes, and, in severe cases, loss of vision. Women are more likely than men to develop the disease.
The study suggests that drug rituximab is a potentially effective new treatment for the most severe forms of Graves' eye disease.
"These patients had already received the maximum level of steroid treatment," Dr Raymond S. Douglas, an oculoplastics specialist who recently joined the faculty of the U-M Kellogg Eye Centre.
"Treatment with rituximab calmed inflammation, stopped progression of the disease, and saved the patients from having to undergo surgery," Douglas added.
In the current study, Douglas observed improvement among the patients, four of whom were women, as early as four weeks following the first infusion of rituximab.
They also found that positive results were sustained 4 to 6 months after treatment.
"Treatment of the inflammatory component of Graves' eye disease has not advanced appreciably over several decades," said Douglas.
High-dose steroids, sometimes in combination with orbital radiation, are still the first line treatment.
"But these are imperfect options because inflammation often recurs when the treatment ends," Douglas added.
He is hopeful that rituximab can offer sustained improvement.
The study appears online in journal Ophthalmology.