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An anti-rejection drug used for organ transplant recipients also appears effective in treating some people with a debilitating digestive tract disorder, scientists said Wednesday.

A study involving 20 patients with severe ulcerative colitis found two weeks of treatment with intravenous doses of cyclosporine reduced pain, cramping and abdominal tenderness and lessened the frequency of diarrhea and other symptoms.The disorder causes inflammation and ulceration of the lining of the colon and rectum. Scientists do not know the cause but say the disease may result from a faulty immune system.

Cyclosporine suppresses the immune system and is used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs. In limited prior studies, it has shown promise in treating both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease - the two major forms of inflammatory bowel disorders.

The trial, led by Dr. Simon Lichtiger of the University of Chicago Medical Center, was ended early after it became clear that 11 participants given cyclosporine faired much better than those in a comparison group who received an inactive dummy drug.

The researchers reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that cyclosporine therapy eliminated the need for surgery to remove the large intestine - often done when ulcerative colitis cannot be treated effectively with commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs, especially corticosteroids.

Nearly "60 percent of the patients in our trial maintained their clinical response six months after discharge," and many were also able to discontinue use of other drugs, Lichtiger said.

He said tests also showed a significant degree of healing of inflamed digestive tract tissue.

As many as 2 million people in the United States alone are thought to suffer from ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Both disorders are most common in young and middle-aged people, and disproportionately affect those from Northern European backgrounds, especially Jews.

In a related study in the medical journal, Canadian researchers led by Dr. Brian Feagan of University Hospital in London, Ontario, said an 18-month trial involving over 300 patients with Crohn's disease found no benefit from low, oral doses of cyclosporine.

The addition of "low-dose cyclosporine to conventional treatment for Crohn's disease did not improve symptoms or reduce requirements for other forms of therapy," they said.