Hope on Horizon for Painful, Incurable Hand Disease

Known drug appears to reverse progress of early-stage Dupuytren's disease
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2022 2:05 PM CDT
Possible 'Game-Changer' for Incurable Hand Disease
The hands of a woman who suffers from Dupuytren’s disease.   (Getty Images)

You probably take for granted the ability to stick your hand in your pocket, use a keyboard, and grip a steering wheel. But all this can be challenging for sufferers of a painful and incurable disease that causes fibrotic scar tissue to develop at the base of the fingers. In severe cases, like that of British actor Bill Nighy, it permanently forces the fingers sideways or into the palm. Some sufferers of Dupuytren's disease actually request amputations, per the Guardian. The affected tissue can be removed during surgery, but there's a risk of nerve and tendon damage. And 20% of those who undergo surgery see the disease return within five years. Luckily, researchers have identified a potential "game-changer."

In a clinical trial, injections of adalimumab, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, seemed to reverse the progress of disease in the early stage, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. Seventy participants, who received four adalimumab injections at three-month intervals, saw the size and hardness of nodules in the hand reduced compared to an equal number of participants who received injections of a saline placebo. There were no serious adverse events, according to a release. And the nodules continued to shrink in size for nine months following the last injection of adalimumab, which reportedly blocks immune cells from signaling the production of fibrotic tissue.

"We are very keen to pursue this," says Oxford's Jagdeep Nanchahal, a surgeon scientist who led the research published Friday in the Lancet Rheumatology journal, per the Guardian. "This is a very safe drug, and it's important patients can access a treatment if it's likely to be effective." Researchers say injections could keep the largely genetic disease that disproportionately affects men from progressing to the point that surgery is required, but they might also prevent the disease from recurring in patients after surgery. This "could be hugely significant," though "longer-term evaluation is required if this is to be realized as a therapy," Neal Millar, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Glasgow, tells the Guardian. (More clinical trials stories.)

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