New Cause of Wasting Syndrome

About half of all patients with cancer and AIDS are affected by wasting syndrome. It is a condition that causes severe weight loss and weakness in patients. Department of Veterans Affairs researchers in San Diego say they have discovered the biological reasons behind wasting syndrome. Their findings could lead to new drugs to help treat and possibly prevent this syndrome.

Scientists say they have pinpointed the chain of biological events that cause wasting in mice. They then identified the same process in liver tissue in cancer patients. Basically, they say an immune-system protein known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha prevents the production of albumin. Albumin is a protein made in the liver. Low levels of albumin have been connected to wasting.

For years, researchers say they have known that TNF-alpha and albumin were connected to wasting, but that connection has remained a mystery. Now, doctors say this study has showed them how TNF-alpha and albumin specifically cause wasting. They believe high doses of vitamin E or a liver-specific antioxidant could be the key to intervention. Researchers say they hope to test already available drugs with the goal of finding one that is safe and effective for the prevention of wasting syndrome.

Besides cancer and AIDS patients, wasting syndrome also affects patients with bacterial and parasitic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic diseases of the bowel, liver, lungs and heart.

SOURCE: The European Molecular Biology Organization Journal, 2001;20:1-12

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