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Hunger hormone helps chemo patients

15th February 2012

Getting treatment using hunger-inducing hormones may help people who are just recovering from chemotherapy, according to a recent Japanese study.

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The researchers found that a synthetic version of the so-called hunger hormone, ghrelin, helped build appetite in cancer patients.

Ghrelin is naturally secreted by the gut in many organisms, and scientists have studied it in as-yet unsuccessful attempts at developing anti-obesity drugs.

Such drugs would theoretically make use of the body's immune system, stopping ghrelin on its way to the brain.

Other studies have shown that the hormone plays a role in learning, memory, mood, and sleep.

But while the so-called obesity vaccine does not seem feasible yet, infusions of synthetic ghrelin do stimulate appetite.

Yuichiro Hiura, and his colleagues at Osaka University in Japan, wrote that their study appeared to show that ghrelin may help cancer patients being treated with cisplatin.

The said that, however, further studies would be needed before the finding could be accepted as fact.

Cisplatin is often used as part of chemotherapy, and it causes nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Cisplatin also inhibits ghrelin, which led the researchers to explore ghrelin supplementation.

For the study, the researchers tested ghrelin infusions in 41 patients. All of them were undergoing cisplatin treatment for oesophageal cancer.

The patients were assigned to two ghrelin infusions per day, at random. The other patients were given infusions of saline, as a placebo.

The bodies of patients selected for ghrelin appeared to make use of the synthetic hormone, maintaining an intake of nearly twice as many calories per day.

Additionally, only about 20% of the patients given ghrelin felt sick, compared to 50% of the patients given the placebo.

The researchers wrote that, while other medications for treating the side-effects of cisplatin chemotherapy already exist, ghrelin helped patients cope with more symptoms, such as lingering feelings of sickness and loss of appetite.

While other drugs focused on the short-term side effects of cisplatin, ghrelin proved a superb remedy for countering the long-term side effects of the drug.

The researchers said that, since the goal of chemotherapy was to help patients tolerate advanced stage cancer treatment, ghrelin may make it easier for patients to undergo a full course of treatment.
 
Ghrelin seems to have a variety of possible medical applications, including the treatment of Parkinson's disease, colitis, and insomnia.

The hormone was first discovered by Japanese researchers about 13 years ago, and was named after the Indo-European root for 'growth'.

 

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