Researchers seek new hope in old asthma treatment

May 10, 2002

Theophylline (pronounced thee-off-a-leen), an asthma medication prescribed since the 1950s, is now being studied for new potential merits. The "Effectiveness of Low Dose Theophylline as Add-On Therapy in the Treatment of Asthma" - or LODO - trial is sponsored by the 19 American Lung Association (ALA) Asthma Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) across the country and seeks to enroll over 600 people, age 15 and over, who suffer from persistent asthma symptoms despite treatment. The ALA ACRC at the University of Vermont (UVM), headed by Professor of Medicine and Vermont Lung Center Director Charles Irvin, Ph.D., is the lead study site.

An estimated 26 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma. "About a third of all asthma sufferers are unable to manage their asthma well," Irvin said. "The LODO study aims to test its effectiveness as an add-on therapy for this population."

Theophylline is a pill-form asthma treatment classified as a bronchodilator that has been used for over 50 years to help open narrow, inflamed airway passages. The medication became associated with side effects and drug interactions and fell out of favor when newer treatment options became available. Recent studies in such scientific journals as The Lancet and the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine suggest that theophylline may have the capacity to reduce airway inflammation and clear away mucus in doses one-quarter to one-third of those needed to open asthmatic passages. So scientists decided to give theophylline another chance.

The LODO study seeks to identify whether or not theophylline can be an effective "add-on" therapy - a booster, so to speak - that will produce better overall results for asthmatics. The study will compare the effectiveness and side-effects of low doses of theophylline to montelukast (sold as Singulair®), as well as placebo (sugar pill), on asthma patients. During the double-blind study, the patient, the doctor and the research staff will not know which treatment each participant is getting. Over the course of six months, a study participant will take one capsule with dinner each evening and keep a daily record of what is called "Peak Expiratory Flow" - which involves blowing into a tube that measures how fast you can blow out - each morning before he or she uses his or her regular daily medication, usually an inhaled steroid.

The other potential benefit -- if theophylline is proven effective as an add-on therapy -- is its price. In generic form, theophylline can cost as little as one-fifth the price of currently popular asthma medications like Singulair®.
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Established in 2000, the ALA ACRC at UVM is a million-dollar research center that operates within the Vermont Lung Center at UVM, in association with Fletcher Allen. The ALA ACRC at UVM is the only clinical center of its kind in New England.

University of Vermont

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