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Health Team

Duke pushing to achieve new psoriasis treatments

Posted April 28, 2008 4:09 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2008 12:23 p.m. EDT

— Psoriasis ranks alongside heart failure and diabetes when surveys ask patients how illnesses affect the quality of life.

The painful and disfiguring skin disease affects 4.5 million Americans, but research is leading to new treatment options.

Psoriasis runs throughout Jim Carlson's family, from his father to his daughter, P.J. Leary, and her daughter, Deirdre.

Those family members often get itchy, scaly spots on their skin, caused by autoimmune activity. "Those spots get very dry; they hurt," said Leary.

Carson said he primarily uses moisturizers, while Leary adds a little sunlight to her psoriasis treatment.

"Whereas some people think of sunbathing as being unsafe today, for people like us, it's a very non-invasive way of controlling our skin disease," she said.

In winter, many patients turn to light-box therapy and topical medications, as well.

"We still don't have a cure, but we have much more effective methods of management," Leary said.

Her condition is under better control, thanks to new biological treatments in clinical trials at Duke University Medical Center.

Trial patients are given injections or IV infusions of proteins, grown in cell cultures, to control inflammation.

"They control the steps, so that the cells don't talk to each other in the skin and (that helps) control the redness and the scaling," Dr. John Murray, a dermatologist, said.

Although a heart condition prevents Carlson from participating in the clinical trials, his family said they are excited about where the research might head.

"Absolutely, you know, I think in Deirdre's lifetime, we will find a cure," Leary said.