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K-State researcher examining why common anti-inflammatory drugs harm intestines

Public release date: 21-Jun-2007

K-State researchers are examining how nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, damage the tissue that lines the gastrointestinal tract. James Lillich, associate professor of clinical sciences, is leading the research. He said NSAIDs are some of the most commonly used prescription and over-the-counter drugs for relieving ailments from headaches to arthritis.

NSAIDs work by blocking a type of enzyme called cyclooxygenase, or COX, which is needed for healthy cellular function. When tissue becomes inflamed, isoforms of the enzyme produce naturally occurring compounds called prostaglandins, which are responsible for the pain associated with inflammation. Although drugs inhibiting COX-2 reduce inflammation, their targets can spill over and also inhibit the gastrointestinal tract’s ability to heal itself, leading to problems like ulcers.

Lillich and the researchers found something they didn’t expect — that in addition to blocking COX, NSAIDs also are affecting other important enzymes called calpains that are required for cell maintenance. These calpains are vital to white blood cells in epithelial cell migration. Lillich said calpains have become the focus of the research at K-State.

“Calpains are a good starting point, because they play important roles for a variety of cells, and you’re not just looking at one or two cell types when it comes to ulcer formation,” Lillich said. “This will teach us about wound healing, cell migration and what the white blood cell does.”

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