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Beta blockers used to make babies' birthmarks go away

July 29, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's not magic, it's medicine that's making certain birthmarks disappear in babies. An old drug is being used in a new way to make some tumors go away. It could be a welcome option since other treatments for disfiguring birthmarks involve harsher drugs and even surgery.

When Myla Hershey was a baby, she developed what her parents called a strawberry on her forehead. It's really a hemangioma. Ten percent of newborns will develop the benign tumor. At first, neither Myla's parents nor her doctors noticed anything. It wasn't visible until she was three months.

"It looked like meat on her forehead. It was actually weighing her eyebrow down," said her mom, Jennifer Hershey.

Until now, doctors would treat the tumors with steroids, chemotherapy and surgery. But doctors in France were treating a heart patient with a common beta blocker. The side effect was that it also caused the child's hemangioma to fade away.

Dr. Alex Golden, a pediatric cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, said it does that by killing the hemangioma cells and constricting the blood vessels that feed them. Golden is now using it to treat babies in the U.S.

"The day we start the medication, the hemangioma stops growing," Golden said.

Myla took three liquid doses of the beta blocker a day and within just a few days, it started to fade, get lighter and shrank, her mom said.

After a year on the medicine, her "strawberry" is barely visible. And doctors say it won't come back.

Doctors are currently only using the beta blockers on infants. They said 100 percent of the tumors in the last 75 patients stopped growing or got smaller. Doctors don't yet know if the treatment will have the same effect on older children and adults.