UT Health Center soon to open clinical trials that may lead to better ways to treat Alpha-1 deficiency

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Research into a new way to deliver a life-saving therapy to treat a deadly disease soon will begin at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

For people with Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency – Alpha 1 for short – that is welcome news. Currently, someone with Alpha-1 must undergo intravenous therapy about once a week to replace the missing protein, said Nancy Creech, RN, MSN, research manager for UTHSCT’s Center for Clinical Research and a certified clinical research coordinator. Patients with Alpha-1 are infused with a blood-based product that is distilled from donated blood plasma.

“In a couple of months, the Health Center will open several clinical research projects that have the potential to lead to an innovative method of drug delivery, inhalation therapy,” Creech said. James Stocks, MD, director of the UTHSCT’s Center for Clinical Research, is a pulmonologist and an expert in treating the disease, a genetic condition that can result in serious lung and/or liver disease.

“The Center for Clinical Research is one of a few Alpha-1 Resource Centers in the nation. Many patients with Alpha-1 lung disease are referred to Dr. Stocks for treatment,” Creech said.

Last Saturday, about 100 people with Alpha-1 gathered at UTHSCT to hear about the latest advances in research and in treating the disease, she said. They came from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and from as far away as Minnesota and Florida to participate in the regional 2006 Texas Alpha-1 Education Day.

As many as 100,000 people in the United States may have Alpha-1, according to the Alpha-1 Foundation. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chronic cough with phlegm, recurring chest colds, jaundice, swelling of the abdomen, gastrointestinal bleeding, non-responsive asthma or year-round allergies, and unexplained liver problems. Alpha-1 can lead to lung destruction. It can be detected by a simple blood test or a new mouth swab test.

At the conference, Richard N. Sifers, Ph.D., an associate professor at Baylor Medical Center in Houston, described his research into better ways to deliver the missing Alpha-1 protein, Creech said. Because of his research, Alpha-1 sufferers may one day be able to take oral medication to control their disease.

“The education day was a huge success. People were able to learn about their disease, about upcoming clinical trials, and about the latest basic biomedical research into Alpha-1,” she said.

Sponsors of the event included UTHSCT, the Alpha-1 Foundation, the Alpha-1 Association, AlphaNet, Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer, Centric Health Resources, Talecris Biotherapeutics, Baxter Healthcare, and ZLB Behring.

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