Sometimes in medicine, a drug originally created to serve one purpose finds success in treating another condition. Such is the case in a recent study which found that a drug originally developed to boost the immune system in cancer patients is now showing promise as a potential treatment for lupus, a serious autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own organs and tissues.

Using much smaller doses of a natural immune system protein called IL-2 than needed to treat cancer patients, researchers saw that the drug was able to restore balance to the overactive immune system of lupus patients. IL-2 proved to be both safe and effective and could be involved in clinical trials for lupus treatment very soon.

"This drug, which can help the immune system fight against cancer, was approved in the 1990s but is not commonly used now,” "Dr. Di Yu, co-author of the study said in a recent statement.

“We're now using this drug for a different purpose, based on our new knowledge of the immune system.”

For the study, IL-2 was given to people whose lupus wasn’t responding well to standard treatments. The drug was able to calm the patients’ hyperactive immune systems “through multiple mechanisms,” Professor Eric Morand, co-author of the study, explained.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body. The true cause of lupus is not completely understood, but according to The Lupus Organization, something goes wrong with the immune system which causes it to be unable to tell the difference between invading foreign bodies, such as bacteria and viruses, and the body’s own tissue. It’s estimated that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus; symptoms range from mild to life threatening.

What’s more, because the drug is already on the market for another use it can be quickly enrolled into formal trials for lupus treatments.

Source: He J, Zhang X, Wei Y, et al. Low-dose interleukin-2 treatment selectively modulates CD4 + T cell subsets in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Nature Medicine . 2016

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