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J Pediatr. 1997 Jul;131(1 Pt 2):S1-4.

The not-so-good old days: working with pituitary growth hormone in North America, 1956 to 1985.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine 90095, USA.


Before 1985 the use of growth hormone (GH) was governed by a philosophy of scarcity and conservation of resources. Between 1956 and 1959 human pituitary GH was shown to be effective. The competition for gland collection and extraction that followed benefited only certain patients with motivated parents and only a few investigators. To maximize gland collection, the distribution of GH for clinical investigation, and the number of patients who could be treated, the National Institutes of Health and the College of American Pathologists formed the National Pituitary Agency (NPA). In Canada a similar program was developed by the Canadian Medical Research Council. For more than 20 years the NPA supervised most of the GH treatment in the United States. Commercial pituitary GH entered the U.S. market in 1976, and competition soon appeared. Patients treated through the NPA were subjects in clinical studies for part of the first year of treatment, after which the limited availability of GH dictated treatment for only part of the year and caps on final heights. By 1984 treatment was year round and the height caps largely unenforced. In the last year of its distribution NPA GH was used in 2450 patients in the United States and commercial pituitary GH was used in 600 to 800; slightly more than 300 patients were being treated in Canada. And then, in 1985, came Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. While the not-so-good old days are gone and need not be lamented, there remains virtue in a conservative therapeutic philosophy. If anything can be learned from the use of pituitary GH in children, it is a healthy respect for the law of unintended consequences.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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