New Treatments for Chronic Disease
Rise Of Chronic Disease
Our society of today has a very large population dealing with chronic conditions and diseases. Many of these diseases are due to a malfunction of the body’s ability to protect itself against bacteria, viruses, parasites or anything that can cause infection (immune system). This malfunction presents itself in what’s known as immune-mediated inflammatory disease (IMIDs) or autoimmune diseases. Immune-mediated means the immune system attacks healthy cells instead of the invaders. Among the more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, are Diabetes type I, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Multiple Sclerosis and Psoriasis just to name a few. The exact causes of these conditions are unknown but it is believed that they result from a combination of several factors such as heredity and chemicals in our foods and environment. Many have very similar symptoms (inflammation, stiffness, joint pain and loss of mobility) and can affect more than one body part, which makes diagnosis difficult. They all also have in common periods or exacerbation and remission but no cure. Treatment is geared toward lessening symptoms and slowing disease progression.
Advances In Treatment
For a long time treatment for these conditions was geared toward decreasing inflammation and steroids were used. In some cases, steroids are still used but advances in medications have given several more effective treatment options. The latest group of drugs in this area of medicine is called biologics. These drugs are genetically engineered from living organisms and their products: proteins, genes and antibodies. Their mode of operations is that they interfere with the body’s inflammatory response. They do this by targeting specific molecular structures. Among such structure are cytokines, which are specialized proteins that aid in decreasing and increasing inflammation. The target cytokines are tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, interleukins, adhesion molecules and colony-stimulating factors among others. By interfering with the inflammatory response it provides an opportunity to lower and maintain a decrease in inflammation.
The biological drugs that are used to treat the above conditions are actually second- generation products. First generation biologics would consist of vaccines, insulin, blood and blood components. The difference between 1st and 2nd generation is the biotechnology used to manufacture the later.
Unlike vaccines, which stimulate the immune system to build ‘protection’ against a specific invader or insulin, which assists the body to metabolize sugars (both being a treatment of the symptoms of disease), 2nd generation biologics actually start from the beginning. They target the specific cells to change them and change the way the immune systems reacts to them. This changed response interrupts the cascade effect that leads to the destructive symptoms of disease. This means that RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) would not have the signal for “attack” given by the inflammatory process to the cells that cause symptoms of swollen, stiff joints that become deformed with nodules. Those suffering from Crohn’s disease would receive the same benefit of no inappropriate inflammation response to the intestinal tract.
Of course this is a very simplified description of the technology required to obtain such life changing medications but it is an attempt to shed light on a very real opportunity for those suffering to regain a level of wellness and increased quality of life.
Most of these drugs are administered intravenously at regularly scheduled intervals in an attempt to decrease and sustain low levels of inflammation, which in turn slows progression of disease and destruction of target body systems. Among the list of drugs of this type are Remicade, Rituxan, Tysabri, Enbrel, Herceptin and Avonex.
Many people suffer from chronic, progressive and eventually debilitating diseases. These drugs and this advanced technology offers hope and help for relief, longer lifespan and better quality of life for those who suffer. It amazing what science and technology can and continues to do!
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