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Salk Institute Discovers Potential Replacement For Steroids

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies today announced a discovery that could lead to the development of a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs to replace steroids, which have serious side effects.

The protein p53, which suppresses cancer tumors, is key to the anti-inflammatory action of steroid drugs, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"Steroids are the most potent anti-inflammatories available, but they can cause serious side-effects," said Dr. Inder Verma, Salk's American Cancer Society professor of molecular biology. "We may have found a way to get around these limitations by reducing inflammation without steroids.''

The study involved a type of steroids called glucocorticoids, used to treat disorders where the immune system is overactive, such as allergies, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. They are also used to relieve inflammation caused by cancer tumors.

Side-effects like immune system suppression, high blood sugar, muscle weakness and glaucoma cause doctors to limit the use of steroids, Verma said. Also, he said research findings suggest that certain cancer patients do not respond to steroid treatment, "so they might be taking the drugs needlessly."

Salk scientists created mice that were genetically altered to suppress p53, and making glucocorticoids ineffective against inflammation. They said that means new drugs that stimulate p53 could be developed to work against inflammation, without the side-effects of steroids.

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