Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a chronic, autoimmune, neurological disease that affects about 75,000 people in the United States. Its symptoms include:
• A drooping eyelid
• Blurred or double vision
• Slurred speech
• Difficulty chewing and swallowing
• Weakness in the arms and legs
• Chronic muscle fatigue
• Difficulty breathing
Although there is no known cure for MG, effective treatments can help patients lead full lives. MG can be treated with medications than enhance communication between nerves and muscles. It is also often treated with prednisone, a medication that suppresses the immune system. However, some patients don’t respond to prednisone and others suffer from side effects that may include high blood sugar that can lead to diabetes, osteoporosis, weight gain, and high blood pressure.
Dr. Richard Nowak
is leading a clinical trial, taking place at 15 sites across the country, to test whether the medication, rituximab, may help patients with MG decrease their prednisone dosage or even discontinue it. Rituximab works by decreasing certain white blood cells that are believed to produce a reaction that leads to MG.
Early studies with rituximab have shown promising results, but it has never been tested to treat MG in a randomized, placebo controlled, double blind study. All medications have to go through this kind of testing before they are widely prescribed. It means that participants are assigned by chance to receive either the study medication or an inactive agent. Neither the research staff nor the patients know which group they fall into.
Besides helping future patients, this study can help doctors learn more about autoimmune diseases in order to help guide patient-tailored treatments. “Patients are our partners in research and in developing new therapies,” said Dr. Nowak. “Without their participation, we can’t move forward.”
Currently there are only three studies taking place in the United States for MG. This is the first MG study to be supported by the National Institutes of Health.
If you have questions or are interested in participating in this study, please email MGStudy@yale.edu or call 1-844-MGStudy.