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Itching for new treatments

Temple’s Center for Itch is the first center of its kind in the nation

A professor and doctor at Temple University Hospital has helped develop the country’s first multidisciplinary clinical and research Center for Itch on the Health Sciences Campus as well as in Fort Washington, Pa.

Gil Yosipovitch came to Temple six months ago to initiate the Center for Itch and was appointed professor and chair of the department of dermatology.

According to the School of Medicine’s website, the center will “serve as an institutional hub for patient-focused care and patient education, as well as research collaborations and interactions among investigative dermatologists, neuro- and other biomedical scientists whose efforts will focus on a better understanding of chronic itch that can lead to new therapies for this common affliction.”

Yosipovitch said the center was put in place because, although many universities have pain centers, there were no centers that dealt specifically with chronic itch. Chronic itch is a common problem in skin diseases and some internal diseases. The center will cover a multitude of skin diseases, internal diseases and neurological conditions including atopic eczema, itch, psoriasis, skin inflammatory diseases and more.

“We also see patients that have cancers like lymphoma, patients that have chronic itch and patients with damaged nerve fibers, such as people that have post-shingles … the list goes on and on,” Yosipovitch said.  “Addressing chronic itch as a disease in its own right is a new concept.”

The Center for Itch is designed to raise awareness among physicians and patients, and to spread the word as to what chronic itch is and what causes it.

“We want to better understand how the itch is transmitted in the nervous system and is processed in the brain,” Yosipovitch said.

The center is working on many experiments to develop better, unique treatments. Treatments used in the center can go beyond some conventional treatments, for example, not just one kind of cream or pill is used to treat an itch. The center also uses alternative medicine like acupuncture.

In the near future, the center will research and test psychological and behavioral methods to reduce itch.

Much of the research within the center involves students who are asked to participate and will be compensated.

One experiment involved the concept of “contagious itch.”  Volunteers in the experiment were shown images of people scratching and images of others not scratching. Afterward, volunteers were given a material that was not intended to make them itch, but the volunteers itched regardless and rated the sensation as an itch.

As the center develops and grows, it will require more staff and studies to be completed. It plans to conduct studies about itching in different ethnic groups as well.

“It’s an exciting time for Temple and an exciting time for the Center for Itch,” Yosipovitch said.

 

Logan Beck can be reached at logan.beck@temple.edu.

 

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