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- What Do Hormones Do?
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Pituitary Research Highlights
Basic research, in which scientists study disease at a molecular or cellular level, lead to scientific discoveries. These discoveries then progress to clinical applications that improve human health. Through basic and clinical research, the scientific community has developed a better understanding of pituitary disorders and improvements in their diagnosis and treatment.
Research has led directly to the development of treatments for patients with pituitary gland tumors. Medical treatments include dopamine agonists, a class of medications that controls most prolactin-secreting tumors. This treatment leads to shrinkage of the pituitary gland tumor and lower levels of prolactin (the hormone that stimulates milk production after childbirth), so most patients with this disease do not need surgery or radiation.
The mainstay of therapy for acromegaly (caused by growth hormone-secreting pituitary tumors) has been surgery, but this does not always lead to a cure. In the last 15 years, medications have been developed to treat patients suffering from acromegaly who are not cured by surgery. These drugs normalize insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels in almost all patients. High IGF-1 levels can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and other debilitating complications in people with acromegaly.
Research has also resulted in new radiation techniques that can halt the growth of pituitary tumors and normalize hormone levels over time, with less radiation exposure to the brain than earlier techniques.
Normally, the pituitary gland releases hormones that stimulate the thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries, and testicles to produce their own hormones. Hypopituitarism, a condition in which the pituitary is unable to function normally, results in decreased levels of hormones made by these glands. Research has led to the development of medications to replace thyroid hormone, cortisol (produced by the adrenal glands), and testosterone, allowing patients with hypopituitarism to lead normal lives.
The most important advance in the treatment of hypopituitarism in the last 20 years is an understanding of the effects of growth hormone deficiency on growth in children, and on bone density, body composition, quality of life, and cardiovascular risk in adults. This has led to the development of growth hormone replacement therapy.
Most recently, clinical research has revealed that androgen ("male" hormone) deficiency in women with hypopituitarism may also have important health consequences on muscle and bone mass, mood, sexual desire, and sexual function.
Research is ongoing to understand what causes pituitary tumors and to develop additional treatments for tumors, hypopituitarism, and other pituitary disorders.
For more information on endocrine research, see our Clinical Trials and Research page.