Commonly Used Asthma Drug Could Prevent Liver Disease

First Posted: Oct 15, 2016 06:00 AM EDT

Texas researchers have recently found that cromolyn sodium, a drug most commonly used to treat allergies and asthma, could actually prevent liver disease and decrease the need for a liver transplant. Researchers said that the anti-inflammatory drug block cells that cause liver scarring which could later then lead to cirrhosis.

According to Indian Express, the study, which used mice as its subject, revealed that cromolyn sodium, normally sold as Nasalcrom, prevents mast cells from triggering the body's immune response which causes symptoms of allergy-induced asthma. It is usually prescribed as a solution used with a nasal applicator and is inhaled through the nose. Cromolyn Sodium was originally created from an herb called ammi visnaga, also known as the toothpick plant, which has been used for centuries in Egypt to treat kidney stones.

The study, published in the scientific journal Hepatology, is led by a team of researchers at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute in collaboration with the Central Texas Veteran's Health Care System and Texas A&M Health Science Center. It mostly examined mast cells (MCs), which are known to creep in and spread after liver injury and release histamine, which can cause fibrosis. Using a model that copies human primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), researchers learned that the drug successfully blocked that histamine, which in turn reduced liver scarring (fibrosis), which can later lead to cirrhosis, reported Science Daily.

The finding of the study revealed that it could mostly impact patients with PSC, a chronic disease that damages bile ducts and causes serious liver damage, since there are still no effective treatments for the disease, and usually leaves patients with few other options other than to undergo a liver transplant.

"We have been examining mast cells for a number of years in my lab and found that they become more prominent and active during disease, so the overall goal of my research is to find drugs to target mast cells and render them inactive," said Heather L. Bradley-Francis, Ph.D. "This particular study was a direct outgrowth of previously published work involving the same drug for bile duct damage and liver cancer," she said.

Newsmax also reported researchers saying they were pleasantly surprised to find that their data and findings matched what they had hypothesized about the drug's effect on PSC, which they based on a previous work. Eventually, cromolyn sodium could result in fewer liver transplants and possibly shorter transplant waiting lists.

The drug is currently also being used to treat the autoimmune disorder irritable bowel syndrome. PSC, which usually causes swelling and scarring of the liver due to short-term damage (such as injury) or long-term damage (such as alcohol abuse), is typically diagnosed in people in their 30s or 40s. If not managed, the disease can lead to liver failure, infections, or tumors.

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