SUNDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A drug called hydroxyurea
that's approved for use in adults with severe sickle cell anemia
can also help young children with the disease, new research
Children with sickle cell anemia younger than 4 years old who
took the medication had fewer emergency department visits for pain
crises, hospital admissions, illnesses with fever and need for
transfusions, the study found.
"Hydroxyurea may be an option for all children with sickle cell anemia. If you're the parent of a child with sickle cell anemia, talk with your child's doctor about whether it might be right for your child," said study lead author Dr. Zora Rogers, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.
"We don't see a difference in toxicity; we don't see a big difference in growth," said Rogers, who's also clinical director of the bone marrow failure and general hematology program at Children's Medical Center in Dallas. "Hydroxyurea is not causing any obvious harm. We'll need to follow the children through adolescence, but right now the oldest is 9."
Rogers was scheduled to present the study's findings Sunday at
the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San
In sickle cell anemia, red blood cells become rigid and develop
a crescent, or sickle, shape, often leading to pain, infection,
organ damage, and even stroke. Hydroxyurea makes it less likely
that red blood cells will bend abnormally, according to the U.S.
National Institutes of Health. People taking the drug must get
monthly blood counts to verify they're on the most effective dose,
The new study followed up on one done with babies and toddlers
with sickle cell anemia. In that earlier study, nearly 200 babies
between 9 and 18 months old were randomly selected to receive
treatment with either hydroxyurea or a placebo. The study, called
Baby Hug, found that children on hydroxyurea had fewer pain crises,
acute chest syndrome events, blood transfusions and hospital
Parents of the 176 children who completed at least 18 months of
the Baby Hug study were offered a chance to participate in the
current follow-up study, sponsored by the U.S. National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute. One hundred and sixty-three children
continued in the study.
All the children had the chance to take hydroxyurea in the
follow-up study. One hundred and thirty three parents chose the
Researchers have seen each child every six months, and now have
36 months of follow-up data. Rogers said the researchers have
almost 500 patient-years of follow-up information.
As with the initial study, the follow-up study saw fewer ER
visits for pain crises, transfusions and hospital admissions. For
each 100 patient-years, the study found 28.8 emergency room visits
for pain crises for those children on hydroxyurea, compared to 53.6
for those on a placebo. For transfusions, there were 18.3 per 100
patient-years for kids on the medication, versus 35.9 for those on
a placebo. There were 72.9 hospital admissions per 100
patient-years for those receiving treatment, and 131.7 for those
taking a placebo.
The follow-up also found fewer illnesses with fever -- 28.5 per
100 patient years for kids on the drug and 61.5 for children not
taking the drug.
"The benefits outweigh the risks for hydroxyurea when administered under supervision," said Dr. Lakshmanan Krishnamurti, director of hematology and hemoglobinopathy at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "This study [offers] a ray of hope and shows us a way to move forward. I hope it leads to change in how physicians think about patients with sickle cell disease. Families can undertake medications and they will come for monitoring."
"We know what 30 years of sickle cell does to a body," Krishnamurti added. "This study shifts the paradigm from chronic palliation to an attempt to give the medication that now has a demonstrated track record of efficacy before damage is done."
A second study, also to be presented Sunday at the meeting,
looked at the potential for a side effect from hydroxyurea called
genotoxicity. A drug with genotoxic effects has the potential to
damage DNA. Some laboratory tests had suggested that this could be
possible with hydroxyurea.
Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and
elsewhere looked for evidence of DNA damage in the babies and
toddlers enrolled in the Baby Hug study. They found no significant
differences in signs indicating DNA damage between kids on the drug
and kids on a placebo, suggesting that any potential for
genotoxicity is low.
Research presented at medical meetings should be considered
preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
To learn more about hydroxyurea, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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