A widely used blood pressure drug shows strong potential for slowing the metabolic overdrive that makes patients waste away after severe burns and other major injuries. In a study, researchers at Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas, tried propranolol on 13 children with bad burns and left 12 untreated to compare. The drug, one of a class known as beta blockers, checks the stimulating action of the hormone adrenaline and helps keep heart rates down in cardiac patients.
In the Texas experiment, the drug eased the children's heart rates an average of 20 percent. More significantly, the youngsters lost just 1 percent of muscle and bone mass over four weeks of recovery. The untreated group lost 9 percent. The children all had burns over at least 40 percent of their bodies. None suffered from pneumonia or needed much mechanical help to breathe.
Dr. David Herndon, who led the study, said more research is needed to show how much the preserved body mass strengthens patients and boosts recovery. But he believes the drug could safely slow hypermetabolism in thousands of patients, including many with crush and broken bone injuries from falls or car wrecks.