Groundbreaking scleroderma research being done at Michigan State University

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LANSING, Mich. – Groundbreaking research is being done at Michigan State University for a debilitating disease that hardens skin.

The disease is called scleroderma, and it doesn't just affect the outer layers of skin. The disease can also affect internal organs.

Celia Guro has lived with scleroderma for more than 20 years.

"My skin did get hard. It was hard to walk and I'm left with my lungs that are hard … at times, I'm on oxygen," Guro said. "I would sit at my desk and feel like I was turning to stone."

Guro is also a doctor and dean of Osteopathic Medicine at the university. Across campus, a potential cure could be coming from a colleague she had never met – until he found out he was working to save her life, and about 100,000 others in the U.S. who have the disease.

"The medial need is huge. There's virtually no therapies available for fibrosis diseases, including scleroderma, lung fibrosis and liver fibrosis," said Dr. Richard Neubig, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at MSU.

Neubig and his team, which includes a collaboration with the University of Michigan, have found that diseases follow a path through the body – and they've narrowed down scleroderma's.

Neubig said there is a way to successfully block progression of the disease by changing the way diseased cells communicate with one another. Neubig said it's worked on lab mice and on human tissue.

"Most diseases processes have a turn on and turn off, and if we can shut off the turn on, the body itself will come in and begin some repair," Neubig said.

Neubig said he expects the same effect to occur in living humans, but that type of testing needs to be done.

The FDA approval process is early two to five years out.

Guro said it's both wonderful and excruciating that a cure is so close, but so far away.

"Giving me a deaths sentence was for a while taking away any hope," she said. "This is just so hopeful, if not for me, certainly for others."

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