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What research is being done on Cushing's syndrome?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the biomedical research component of the Federal Government. It is one of the health agencies of the Public Health Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Several components of the NIH conduct and support research on Cushing's syndrome and other disorders of the endocrine system, including the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
NIH-supported scientists are conducting intensive research into the normal and abnormal function of the major endocrine glands and the many hormones of the endocrine system. Identification of the corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), which instructs the pituitary gland to release ACTH, enabled researchers to develop the CRH stimulation test, which is increasingly being used to identify the cause of Cushing's syndrome.
Improved techniques for measuring ACTH permit distinction of ACTH-dependent forms of Cushing's syndrome from adrenal tumors. NIH studies have shown that petrosal sinus sampling is a very accurate test to diagnose the cause of Cushing's syndrome in those who have excess ACTH production. The recently described dexamethasone suppression-CRH test is able to differentiate most cases of Cushing's from Pseudo Cushing's.
As a result of this research, doctors are much better able to diagnose Cushing's syndrome and distinguish among the causes of this disorder. Since accurate diagnosis is still a problem for some patients, new tests are under study to further refine the diagnostic process.
Many studies are underway to understand the causes of formation of benign endocrine tumors, such as those which cause most cases of Cushing's syndrome. In a few pituitary adenomas, specific gene defects have been identified and may provide important clues to understanding tumor formation. Endocrine factors may also play a role. There is increasing evidence that tumor formation is a multi-step process. Understanding the basis of Cushing's syndrome will yield new approaches to therapy.
NIH supports research related to Cushing's syndrome at medical centers throughout the United States. Scientists are also treating patients with Cushing's syndrome at the NIH Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Physicians who are interested in referring a patient may contact Dr. George P. Chrousos, Developmental Endocrinology Branch, NICHD, Building 10, Room 10N262, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, telephone 301-496-4686.