Center conducts study
on anorexic girls

By Helen Altonn

Parents or guardians of girls ages 10 to 17 who are seriously underweight or anorexic may get free help from the Hawaii Clinical Research Center.

It is one of about 100 medical centers in the nation selected to study complications of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that can cause fragile bones, heart muscle damage, thinning hair and easily bruised skin.

"This condition, unfortunately, is not uncommon," said Dr. Denis Mee-Lee, the center's medical director.

He said the center is contacting counselors who work with anorexic patients to try to reach as many girls as possible for the study.

Ortho McNeil Pharmaceutical Co. is sponsoring the research to determine the effectiveness of a medication it feels will help anorexia, Mee-Lee said.

He said girls must have two basic risk factors to be eligible for the study: reduced food intake and lack of menstruation. "It's very common when anorexia is being practiced that periods stop," Mee-Lee said.

He said it is important for parents to recognize symptoms of anorexia nervosa because adolescents are at risk for poor bone formation and osteoporosis later in life.

"The good thing about this study is it really uses the top-of-the-line evaluation tools to determine whether there is any bone loss," he said, explaining normal X-rays do not detect changes in the bones.

A test known as Dexa, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, will be used to measure bone mineral density in the spine accurately. It's known as the "Cadillac" of tests, Mee-Lee said.

"So this is kind of a high-powered assessment provided free by the company."

Once the study is under way, it will continue for about a year and the clinical center will see the volunteers about eight times for evaluations, he said. The center will pay expenses for the visits.

Participants will take medication daily that is supposed to counter negative effects of anorexia and, hopefully, reduce damage to bones, Mee-Lee said.

"We're looking forward to recruiting as many girls as possible as fast as possible," through counselors, teachers, family members or others, he said.

"It's a major problem, not easy to treat, and it's a fatal condition often. It can fiercely impact the health of these young ladies."

Some of the girls will be on a placebo or substitute for the medication. "They won't know but we will be doing evaluations," Mee-Lee said. "If at any time things are not looking good, we will have some options. They only stay in the study as long as it is good for them."

Even if the medicine does not work, he said, "they get a lot of assessments, the Dexa scan, lab tests and physical exams, so they are followed closely over a period of time."

For more information about the study, call the center at 1750 Kalakaua Ave., 949-4977 or 800-441-8269, or visit

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