15 December 1997

Why some drugs cause allergic reactions - and why these affect only certain people - is being investigated by University of Queensland researchers.

The project, based at Royal Brisbane Hospital, has just been guaranteed another five years funding through a grant of $926,181 from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Dr Ron Dickinson, a full-time research fellow with the NHMRC, is leading the study team which comprises a research officer, a research assistant and two PhD students.

The work has been under way for several years, focusing on acidic drugs such as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents used by people for common ailments such as arthritis.

Dr Dickinson said there were no problems with most such drugs but some sparked allergies in certain people and the aim was to try to understand and explain this response.

Susceptible individuals could show mild responses such as skin rash. However, in extreme cases of allergic reaction, breathing difficulty, damage to the circulatory system and even death could result.

Another prong of the research is looking at possible mechanisms to explain clinical observations which suggest that people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may have lower rates of colon cancer.

Dr Dickinson said there were various theories on why this might be so and his aim was to discover if this unexpected beneficial side-effect could come from a modification of the same pathway which caused the drug allergy.

The research team will also be studying other issues associated with acidic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including why in some cases they appear to give rise to occasional liver problems.

For more information, contact Dr Ron Dickinson (telephone 3365 5337).