Healthbeat Report: Ulcerative Colitis

March 29, 2012 8:40:34 PM PDT
Ulcerative colitis is a disease most patients don't like talking about, but there is hope for nearly a million who are suffering in silence.

Leslie Schwartz has ulcerative colitis. That's when ulcers and inflammation form on the lining of the colon and intestine. He has lived with the uncomfortable symptoms and 10 to 15 trips to the bathroom a day for almost 10 years.

"Very inconvenient, because I was bleeding a lot, going to the bathroom a lot," said Schwartz. "We've tried just about everything else there is to try."

Dr. William Sandborn, a gastroenterologist at UC San Diego Health System, says patients like Leslie can have surgery, but that means removing the colon and needing an ileostomy bag. Instead, he offered Leslie an experimental therapy.

"What we think is happening with this medication, it's promoting healing of that inflamed lining of the bowel," said Dr. Sandborn.

MDX-1100 works by blocking a protein called chemokine, clearing it from the body, so inflammation can't occur. The goal is remission which means turning off that inflammatory process. And there are various medications to do that, but it can take trial and error to find the one that works best for each patient. And these medications can have serious side effects, so new options are welcome.

MDX-1100 is showing promise.

"It seems to be really targeting the colon, so it leaves most of the rest of the body alone," said Dr. Sandborn.

Dr. David Rubin is a gastroenterologist at the University of Chicago Medicine who specializes in the treatment of digestive diseases. "We've made tremendous progress in our treatments of ulcerative colitis," he said.

What actually causes ulcerative colitis is still a mystery, but that hasn't stopped researchers from finding ways to turn off the inflammation.

"The reality is the longer you live like this aside from how it affects your quality of life the more difficult it may be to get you under control," said Dr. Rubin.

Dr. Rubin says the key to getting better, feeling better, and reducing the risk of colon cancer is early diagnosis and early treatment.

"People with chronic inflammation of the bowel can get colon cancer. That's true," he said. "But we are learning that the more active the disease the greater the risk but the risk is still rare and this is preventable."

Symptoms can include abdominal pain and cramping, weight loss, fever, light or extreme diarrhea, fever and joint pain or swelling.

And for those patients who didn't do well with past treatments, doctors say don't give up on getting better. There may now be more options worth checking into.

MDX-1100 has shown good results in a phase one study. It's now in phase two of testing.