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August 2004 Issue

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Study Shows Lead Poison Treatment Ineffective

Published August 2004

A nine-year study of the treatment of lead-poisoned children suggests that prevention is far more effective than cure.

UC and Cincinnati Children's researchers examined the effect of "chelation" therapy with the drug succimer, a standard technique for "washing" the blood, on the neurophysiological and behavioral development of school-age children exposed to lead.

"We hoped to demonstrate that the effects of early exposure to lead could be minimized or eliminated by administration of this drug," says Kim Dietrich, PhD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health. "Instead, the study showed that neurological damage from lead poisoning is irreversible."

Reported in the July 1 issue of the journal Pediatrics, the study, "emphasizes that lead poisoning must be prevented in the first place," Dr. Dietrich says. "Instead of reacting to journalistic hyperbole about historic skeet-shooting range sites that have been paved over by new suburbs, we need to make sure that children in our inner cities, living in older homes that cause actual lead poisoning, are adequately protected.

"We shouldn't be using children as guinea pigs," says Dr. Dietrich. "We should double our efforts to inspect and clean up target areas in the interiors of our cities, where we have found documented cases of lead-poisoned children. If we wait until the children's blood shows high levels of lead, the damage is already done."

The first to examine children treated with a drug designed specifically to reduce lead-levels, the Cincinnati study was part of a collaboration with Harvard University, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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