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Lead Removing Drug Improves Muscle Function in Lead-Exposed Children

Researchers say a therapy commonly used to remove dangerously high levels of lead from the body may also improve muscle functions associated with postural// balance and movement in lead-exposed children.

Led by Amit Bhattacharya, PhD, the UC team found that children treated with succimer (SUX-sim-er) chelation therapy showed a 19 percent improvement in their ability to perform moving tasks—such as crossing an obstacle or walking—than those who did not receive treatment.

Chelation (ke-LAY-shun) is a technique, nicknamed “scrubbing,” in which a drug is administered to seek out and bind to poisonous heavy metals, such as lead or mercury, in the bloodstream. The compound resulting from this binding is then excreted in the urine, essentially cleaning out the dangerous metals.

Succimer (Chermet) is an oral chelating drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat children with extremely elevated blood lead levels (44 to 69 micrograms per deciliter).

The UC team has found that succimer chelation therapy improved static balance by 6 percent.

“Lead exposure is a very serious issue,” says Bhattacharya, professor of environmental health and lead author of the study, “and it’s important to identify early signs of neuromotor (muscle-function) exposure effects—such as impaired postural balance or locomotion—before permanent damage occurs. Our research may help develop control strategies for minimizing exposure to lead at an earlier stage.”

The team reports its findings in the May 2007 edition of the journal Neurotoxicology. This is the first study to report that succimer chelation therapy can produce beneficial effects on postural balance and movement in lead-exposed children.

Previous research has shown that succimer chelation therapy can reduce lead levels in the blood, but few scientists have investigated whether it can improve neuromotor abilities in this at-risk population.

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