Human growth hormone shows promise in treating cystic fibrosis symptoms

Research Activities, November 2010, No. 363

Human growth hormone can be used successfully to treat some symptoms of cystic fibrosis, but its impact on the disease itself remains unknown, according to a new report funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic multi-organ disease, caused by a defective gene, in which the body produces thick mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections. The disease also makes it difficult for the pancreas to work, hampering the ability to absorb food. Common signs are salty tasting skin, difficulty breathing, chronic lung infections, poor weight gain, and shorter height. The disease typically is detected in childhood, stunting the patient's growth and usually leading to early death.

The report, Effectiveness of Recombinant Human Growth Hormone (rhGH) in the Treatment of Patients with Cystic Fibrosis, finds that the use of human growth hormone increases height and weight, may improve lung functioning, and may strengthen the bones of patients with cystic fibrosis. Researchers found evidence suggesting that human growth hormone therapy reduces the need for hospitalizations, but could find no evidence that the therapy prolongs life or improves health-related quality of life. The use of human growth hormone was also found to raise blood sugar, which over time may lead to the development of diabetes in some patients.

"Patients with cystic fibrosis and their families have long looked for ways to manage this disease," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "This report gives patients and their families excellent information that they can use, in consultation with their doctors, to make decisions about care."

The report was produced by the University of Connecticut/Hartford Hospital Evidence-based Practice Center for AHRQ. Results of the report were published online in the October issue of Pediatrics. Researchers examined published evidence from 53 unique studies of the effect of human growth hormone in cystic fibrosis patients as well as patients who did not have cystic fibrosis.

Effectiveness of Recombinant Human Growth Hormone (rhGH) in the Treatment of Patients with Cystic Fibrosis is the newest comparative effectiveness review from AHRQ's Effective Health Care Program. The Effective Health Care Program represents a leading Federal effort to compare alternative treatments for health conditions and make the findings public to help doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others work together with patients to choose the most effective treatments.

In conjunction with the new report, AHRQ will soon publish plain-language summary guides about human growth hormone in cystic fibrosis for patients, clinicians, and policymakers. Summary guides on numerous clinical topics and other information and background on the Effective Health Care Program can be found at the Effective Health Care Program Web site.

Current as of November 2010
Internet Citation: Human growth hormone shows promise in treating cystic fibrosis symptoms: Research Activities, November 2010, No. 363. November 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/nov10/1110RA26.html