Finding new ways to combat chronic itch

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CBS) - Have you ever had an unbearable itch that wouldn't go away?

At the world's first Center for the Study of Itch in St. Louis, researchers are getting closer to finding answers for desperate patients.

At 81-years old, Don Hodges has battled enemies at war and a bout with cancer. But seven years ago, he started combating an itch all over his body.

"I went through so many dermatologists, that we knew each other by first names and family members, and they'd just give up. They couldn't do anything," said Hodges.

Creams, ointments and medication didn't help. Don's among 15% of people who suffer from unexplained chronic itch.

"Study after study has shown that it's worse than chronic pain or comparable. My patients tell me it's often worse " said Dr. Brian Kim.

Dr. Brian Kim is a researcher at the world's first Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

After discovering an itch molecule, scientists expanded their work, from testing treatments on itchy lab mice, to finding relief for desperate patients.

"A lot of people didn't believe that not only that it wasn't a real problem, that it was a problem we could solve at the scientific level," said Kim.

Doctors finally found a way to help Don. After several failed treatments, an arthritis drug is giving him relief.

"Within a week, probably from the day I took it. And it went away and hasn't come back. You don't get to be 81 years old by giving up." said Hodges.

And Dr. Kim isn't giving up either.

"It doesn't have to stop here. That's just one drug, one pathway. But we think there's a lot more."

Currently, there's no FDA treatment for chronic itch.