An experimental medication for suppressing itch by blocking two receptors in the spinal cord has successfully alleviated multiple forms of acute and chronic itch in animal models. This could represent a new approach for patients for whom there are not currently good treatment options.
In a paper published online in Nature Communications (Aug. 13, 2018), Dr. Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer and his research colleagues describe how they pharmaceutically targeted inhibitory α2 and α3 GABAA receptors in the spine of mice and dogs, preventing itch signals from being relayed to the brain.
Dr. Zeilhofer is a professor at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
In their experiments, the investigators were able to show that the experimental medication not only suppressed acute itch, but was also effective against chronic itch. Mice that were administered the therapy scratched themselves less often, and their skin changes healed significantly more quickly than in animals given a placebo. The same itch-suppressant effect was also observed in tests with dogs carried out by the researchers in cooperation with the University of Zurich’s Veterinary Department. No obvious undesired side effects were seen.
Dr. Zeilhofer said in a press release from the university that he is optimistic about the study’s results: “We are confident that the substance we’ve tested will also be effective in humans.”
The researchers have filed a patent application on the new agent and are currently cooperating with pharmaceutical companies to develop the compound as a medication for use in human and veterinary medicine.
“Like humans, dogs also often suffer from chronic itch. They too therefore stand to benefit from the approach,” said Dr. Zeilhofer.