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MGH Researchers Develop Cure For Childhood Puberty

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A research team at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has developed the first effective treatment for precocious puberty, a rare hormonal disease that causes children to mature sexually as early as age two, the New England Journal of Medicine reported recently.

The team, led by Dr. William F. Crowley, assistant professor of medicine, found that injections of an altered version of a chemical found naturally in the human body stopped early puberty. The natural hormone, Gonadatropic Releasing Hormone (GnRH) initiates sexual development, bone hardening, and a sudden final growth spurt.

Researchers administered a modified form of GnRH to five girls with the disease between the ages of two and seven. For all five, menstrual cycles and the bone-hardening process, which would have stunted growth at an early age, stopped. Both symptoms resumed when the treatment was temporarily discontinued, Crowley said yesterday.

"The goal was not only to show that the drug worked, but that it was safe, and especially that it was reversible," he added.

The new drug is the first to halt bone hardening, which makes most victims of the disease under five feet tall and often causes psychological harm, Crowley said. Previous treatments with steroids could only halt sexual symptoms, he added.

Other Possibilities

Crowley speculated that eventually doctors may be able to use the drug to "tamper with the natural growth process." People who produce insufficient natural growth hormones, or who failed to grow normally because of kidney disease, malnutrition, or other disorders, might be able to use the drug to "catch up," he said.

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