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For Immediate Release

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Study Could Lead to Treatment of Colds and Severe Infections with Common Vitamin Supplement

Results of the study are being published in the March 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh researchers have identified a condition in critically ill children that predisposes them to sepsis, an overwhelming blood stream infection that is the leading cause of death in children worldwide.

In a study of 113 patients hospitalized in Children's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), the researchers identified a previously unknown link between low lymphocyte and prolactin levels and sepsis. Critically ill children with low lymphocyte and prolactin levels are much more likely to develop sepsis. Lymphocytes are cells in the blood that help fight infection. Prolactin is hormone made by the pituitary gland that helps cells maintain lymphocyte levels.

These findings may prove significant in the treatment of children with sepsis because the vitamin zinc is known to boost lymphocyte levels and potentially could be used as a treatment infections, said Joseph Carcillo, MD, associate director of Children's PICU and the senior author of the study. Furthermore, a popular heartburn drug already in use for children, Reglan, is known to increase prolactin.

Results of the study are published in the March 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology.

"The results of this study could have amazing implications for the treatment of kids sick with infection, everything from the common cold to severe sepsis," Dr. Carcillo said. "The day may come when parents can give their sick child a medication containing both zinc and Reglan that will boost their immune system and help them fight off the infection."

Zinc deficiency has long been known to cause low lymphocyte counts and the World Health Organization recommends 10mg of zinc a day for infants and 15 mg a day for children with diarrhea or pneumonia, the two most common causes of sepsis, according to Dr. Carcillo.

The Children's researchers, including Kate Felmet, MD, an intensivist at Children's and the first author of the study, found that patients with a lymphocyte count of less than 1,000 for three days had a six-fold increase in odds of developing sepsis. Those with a lymphocyte count of less than 1,000 for more than seven days had a six-fold increase in odds of dying from sepsis.

Children's will now study the benefits of zinc and Reglan in preventing secondary bacterial infections such as sepsis in critically ill children. In January, Children's was selected by the National Institutes of Health as one of six pediatric hospitals in the country to take part in the National Collaborative Pediatric Critical Care Research Network. The zinc/Reglan study will be conducted by this network.

Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-5016,
Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5016,

Last Update
June 17, 2008
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Last Update
June 17, 2008