Common antibiotic knocks out rare skin disease
Minocycline effectively cured four patients of scleroderma
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May 8, 1998
Web posted at: 5:52 p.m. EDT (2152 GMT)
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BOSTON (CNN) -- Researchers say a common antibiotic that has been in use for more than 20 years has proven effective against a potentially fatal skin disease from which thousands
of Americans suffer.
People in the early stages of scleroderma can get total
relief from the debilitating autoimmune disease by taking the
antibiotic minocycline twice a day, according to the findings
of a year-long pilot study.
"The results are highly significant," said study leader Dr.
David Trentham, a rheumatologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Minocycline is ordinarily used to treat acne, but Trentham
gave it to six patients with scleroderma and it effectively
cured four of them.
"We thought the drug would lead to improvement, but to have
total clearing of the skin was quite a surprise," he said.
Scleroderma affects about 150,000 Americans, and may be
familiar to those who have seen the TV movie "For Hope."
Scleroderma had been untreatable
The disease causes degeneration of the connective tissue of
the skin, lungs and internal organs, especially the
esophagus, digestive tract and kidneys.
Patients with scleroderma experience a stiffening and
thickening of the skin, which makes it difficult to move
certain parts of the body. In some cases, there is difficulty
swallowing and breathing, and the person dies.
Almost all of Dale's symptoms are gone after taking minocycline for a year
"Patients may live three to five to 10 years," Trentham said,
"but they increasingly become more and more disabled. It
becomes more difficult to move hands; limbs become rigid."
Trentham thought minocycline might work with scleroderma
because it had been found to help those with rheumatoid
arthritis. Both are autoimmune diseases, meaning the body's
immune system attacks its own tissue.
He had no idea, however, that it would work as well as it
"I must admit we were pleasantly surprised," he said.
"Heretofore, scleroderma has never been treatable in any real
form or fashion."
Cynthia Dale, one of Trentham's patients, said she had no
energy and was in great pain before she began taking
"Brushing my teeth became a chore, because I wasn't able to
open my mouth wide enough, and I couldn't grip the
toothbrush," she said. "It was too small to grip."
Dale added, "I couldn't braid my little girl's hair. Every
morning she wanted me to do it, and I couldn't." ( 214K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
'You feel like you're a 12-year-old'
After taking minocycline for a year, almost all of her
symptoms are gone.
"You feel like you're a 12-year-old and you can do anything,"
she said. "You can climb Mt. Everest, and you have energy and
you're happy and you're past it."
Trentham warns that his study was small and only worked on
patients whose disease was in the early stages. But he said
it offers hope to people who once had very little.
Indeed, the researchers are so encouraged that they say they
will also try it on those who suffer from other autoimmune
diseases such as arthritis and lupus.
Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.