Health Watch -- Preventing Rickets

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A drug used to treat inflammation could help some children grow stronger bones.

Although we think of rickets as a disease caused by a nutritional deficiencies, there's also an inherited, genetic form of the disease. Children with this condition have weak, soft bones because their kidneys waste phosphate, a mineral that combines with calcium to make bones and teeth. The effect of this disease is much like osteoporosis, only it happens to children whose bones are still growing. The phosphate deficiency also causes these children to be abnormally short and to have problems with their teeth and muscles.

Doctors have been treating this condition by prescribing phosphate supplements with vitamin D, which forces the body to absorb phosphate through the intestines before it can be washed away. Unfortunately, long-term treatment may cause kidney damage.

But now doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found that an anti-inflammatory drug commonly used to treat conditions like arthritis may keep the body from excreting too much phosphate. In laboratory studies, mice that have a similar genetic deficiency were given this drug, and their phosphate output decreased.

Dr. Michael Baum, the UT Southwestern pediatrician who led the study, says the results were so promising the researchers hope to conduct clinical trials. It's possible that a simple treatment, either used alone or along with other therapies, could help children with an inherited form of rickets grow strong bones and avoid complications from the disease.