ABC7 Eyewitness News

By Judy Hsu

June 27, 2017

A potential medical breakthrough happening in Chicago is literally saving limbs.

An experimental treatment for patients with chronic poor circulation, often brought on by heart disease or diabetes, is part of a new push for drug repurposing -- finding new cures with existing medicine.

Like millions of Americans, Curtis Richardson suffers from poor circulation in his legs.

"That can manifest as problems like pain when you walk, pain in your feet at night, ultimately wounds that won't heal," said Dr. George Havelka, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

For Richardson, walking became nearly impossible.

"Pain was so bad had me in tears sometimes," Richardson said.

His condition, up until now, had few medical options.

"The natural history of that is needing surgery or possibly even amputation," Havelka said.

However, Havelka and Dr. Darwin Eton, of the University of Illinois Hospital, are trying a new approach - a clinical study that involves no surgery and no hospital stay.

The treatment uses an existing drug for cancer patients that mobilizes the body's own stem cells and a standard compression device. Havelka said "hopefully helps those stem cells hone in to where the disease is at and allowing the patient to build up new circulation and improve the blood flow."

The breakthrough treatment took a decade of research, with promising results.

"We've had absolutely impossible cases come along that we've treated this way," Eton said. "These people were all scheduled for amputation, whenever we save a limb, that's one less amputation."

Part of the final stage now, this clinical trial is funded by Chicago-based nonprofit Cures Within Reach, which supports drug repurposing.

"Taking drugs that are already approved for one disease and realizing they might be useful in other diseases that are currently unsolved," said Dr. Bruce Bloom, president of Cures Within Reach.

The study, going on at the University of Illinois-Chicago, still needs one more patient to complete the clinical trial. It is a process to be approved, but interested patients can visit Cures Within Reach website at www.cureswithinreach.org.

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