Scientists have found the way to tackle severe itching, which is a side effect of certain drugs.
The study by a team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and three South Korean institutions has pointed to the possibility of designing future drugs that effectively treat targeted conditions while blocking the cellular signals that can lead to problematic itching and scratching.
"This new pathway provides another avenue to block the scratching response that appears as a chronic side effect during treatments of cancer, renal failure or the use of some antibiotics," said Melvin I. Simon, of the UCSD Department of Pharmacology and a corresponding co-author of the study, headed by Sang-Kyou Han, if the UC San Diego.
Simon said that improving understanding of itch biology isn't just a matter of scratching an intellectual curiosity. It could lead to practical medical benefits, according to.
"Itching and scratching are side effects of a variety of therapeutic drugs and of specific illnesses. In many cases, these effects are severe and make it impossible to use otherwise effective therapies. Thus, the itch remains an unmet medical need," he said.
In the PNAS study, the scientists focused on Imiquimod (marketed as Aldara), a prescription-based topical cream used to treat a number of skin diseases, including some forms of skin cancer, by activating the body's innate immune response. One major side effect: Imiquimod produces intense itching and scratching.
The researchers discovered that the skin sensory circuit activated by Imiquimod to causes itching is different from the signaling pathway involved in the drug's therapeutic benefit. Indeed, the Imiquimod itch mechanism is distinct from other, well-defined itch mechanisms.
The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.