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The Fires Within #2/8 ( By TIME - Feb. 23. 2004 )

But now that we are living longer, those same inflammatory strategies are more likely to slip beyond our control. Making matters worse, it appears that many of the attributes of a Western lifestyle--such as a diet high in sugars and saturated fats, accompanied by little or no exercise--also make it easier for the body to become inflamed.

At least that's the theory. For now, most of the evidence is circumstantial. (A few researchers think chronic inflammation can in some cases be good for you.) But that hasn't stopped doctors from testing the anti-inflammatory drugs that are already on pharmacy shelves to see if they have any broader benefits. What they've found is encouraging:

--In 2000 researchers concluded that patients who take Celebrex, a prescription drug from Pfizer that was originally designed to treat inflammation in arthritis, are less likely to develop intestinal polyps--abnormal growths that can become cancerous. Now there are dozens of clinical trials of Celebrex, testing, among other things, whether the medication can also prevent breast cancer, delay memory loss or slow the progression of the devastating neurodegenerative disorder known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

--As cardiologists gain more experience prescribing cholesterol-lowering statins, they are discovering that the drugs are more effective at preventing heart attacks than anyone expected. It turns out that statins don't just lower cholesterol levels; they also reduce inflammation. Now statins are being tested for their anti-inflammatory effects on Alzheimer's disease and sickle-cell anemia.

--DeCode Genetics, an Icelandic biotech firm, announced last week that it is launching a pilot study to test whether an anti-inflammatory drug that was under development for use in treating asthma might work to prevent heart attacks.

--Of course the granddaddy of all anti-inflammatories is aspirin, and millions of Americans already take it to prevent heart attacks. But evidence is growing that it may also fight colon cancer and even Alzheimer's by reducing inflammation in the digestive tract and the brain.

This new view of inflammation is changing the way some scientists do medical research. "Virtually our entire R.-and-D. effort is [now] focused on inflammation and cancer," says Dr. Robert Tepper, president of research and development at Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass. In medical schools across the U.S., cardiologists, rheumatologists, oncologists, allergists and neurologists are all suddenly talking to one another--and they're discovering that they're looking at the same thing. The speed with which researchers are jumping on the inflammation bandwagon is breathtaking. Just a few years ago, "nobody was interested in this stuff," says Dr. Paul Ridker, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital who has done some of the groundbreaking work in the area. "Now the whole field of inflammation research is about to explode."





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