Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have discovered the highly addictive drug in tobacco products, called nicotine, may help people with sarcoidosis, a chronic inflammatory lung disease.
The main symptom of most lung diseases is shortness of breath, however, with sarcoidosis, its debilitating fatigue makes it frequently misdiagnosed. When left untreated, the disease can cause severe lung damage and even death.
It is currently treated with steroids, which often have side effects that are more severe than the symptoms of the disease itself. Dr. Elliott Crouser, a pulmonologist specializing in sarcoidosis, said in a statement:
“It’s tricky because it mimics other diseases. It’s frequently misdiagnosed. Sarcoidosis can look like lung nodules, pneumonia, scar tissue, even lung cancer. It can involve other vital organs, and it differs from one person to the next.
“We can’t use the medications for very long before these side effects occur. They can be severe, such as the development of osteoporosis, cataracts, diabetes, or high blood pressure and complications related to those. We need better, more tolerable options.”
Now, Dr. Crouser believes there may be some good results using nicotine, and he is now conducting a clinical trial at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. In the trial, nicotine patches will be used to see whether the nicotine contained helps with the chronic inflammatory lung disease.
During a small initial study, the patches, which are normally used to help people stop smoking, indicated there was some benefit. The researchers are now conducting a larger, randomized trial. Dr. Crouser went on to say:
“Why nicotine? Around 2000, we learned two things. There was new evidence that nicotine is an anti-inflammatory, and from other studies, we discovered smokers were less likely to get sarcoidosis.
“So we’re testing whether nicotine can be a solution. We hope people will actually get a secondary benefit — not only will their lung disease get better, but they’ll feel more energized and have better quality of life.”
Some trial participants will receive a patch with nicotine, while others will be given a placebo. Researchers will then evaluate lung function for seven months using computerized axial tomography (CAT scans), along with computer models, to monitor disease progression or improvement.
It is not known what causes sarcoidosis, however, experts believe it’s related to environmental exposure. It is also unclear what triggers the disease, as the symptoms vary in each person. Many patients can recover from the disease or go into remission; however, for some, it’s a chronic condition. Dr. Crouser explains that:
“There isn’t a lot of data on the disease, but we are learning more about it. We know black women are at higher risk, but we don’t know why.
“We’re seeing more cases diagnosed overall. We think that might be from increased awareness of the disease among the healthcare community and the use of more sensitive screening tests, such as CAT scans, which improves the detection of the disease.
“It is also possible that something in the environment is triggering more cases of sarcoidosis. More research is needed to better understand the disease and to improve the current standards of care.”
To find out more about the trial, or to see if you’re eligible, go to studysearch.