US doctors have called for a sickle cell anaemia drug to be made available after tests showed it is safe for children to use.
The Lancet study, involving 200 or so US babies, revealed that hydroxycarbamide lessened pain and associated complications in patients who were administered the treatment. The drug is available for adults already but this is the first test involving youngsters.
Sickle-shaped red blood cells are more likely to die sooner and block blood vessels. This can lead to organ damage, pain and even early death in some patients. In the new study, infants given the drug had their number of painful events - meaning pain lasting more than two hours - halved. There was also a four-fifths reduction in pain or tenderness in the hands and feet, known as dactylitis.
Only one negative effect was found - mild symptoms of neutropenia, where the number of infection-fighting white blood cells fell. Experts conducting the tests said the study "should have a major effect on guidelines for the management of children with sickle cell anaemia. Hydroxycarbamide therapy can now be considered for all very young children with sickle cell anaemia."
Professor David Weatherall, from Oxford University, said: "These findings are extremely encouraging. Hydroxycarbamide is inexpensive and could certainly be made available in low-income countries in which sickle-cell anaemia is so common."