Clinical trials conducted at Howard University’s College of Medicine and 12 other medical institutions across the nation have discovered a treatment that dramatically reduces pain, inflammation and hospitalization time and eases other symptoms in young children suffering from sickle cell anemia, according to a study to be published May 14.

Doctors and medical clinicians in a four-year study found that using the drug hydroxycarbamide (also called hydroxyurea) in very young children with sickle cell anemia was safe and markedly reduced episodes of pain and other problems.

Hydroxycarbamide has been used in adults for several decades for a variety of cancer treatments and is approved for use in adults with sickle cell anemia.

The findings, which will be published in the next edition of The Lancet, the medical community’s leading refereed journal, suggest that use of hydroxycarbamide should now be the standard of care for all children with sickle cell disease.

Dr. Sohail Rana, professor at the Department of Pediatrics at Howard University College of Medicine and director of pediatric hematology at Howard University Hospital, was one of the investigators on the study.

“This is a significant breakthrough in the treatment of this disease, particularly for our very young patients,” Rana said. “To be able to dramatically diminish the pain that these young children suffer because of this disease is truly an important step forward. We hope all clinicians will now adopt this treatment for their patients.”

Howard was one of the leading partners in the study, which was named the BABY HUG trial. The study continues to observe children for long-term benefits.

Also participating in the study were Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Medical University of South Carolina, University of Miami, Emory University School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Michigan, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Medical College of Georgia, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Clinical Trials & Surveys Corporation.

Sickle cell anemia is most common in people of African or Mediterranean heritage and is also seen in people of South American, Central American, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern ancestry.

In sickle cell anemia patients, the red blood cells develop abnormal shapes and are unable to pass through small blood vessels and cause blockage. These cells also break down faster than normal blood cells, leading to anemia. Complications include severe pain, stroke, damage to different organs of body and premature death.

“The results of the BABY HUG 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 whether or not they have clinical symptoms.”