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BACKGROUND: Sickle-cell disease increases the risk of malnutrition. Low arginine and nitric oxide bioavailability are implicated in morbidity related to sickle-cell disease. Simple interventions are required, especially in low-income settings. We aimed to test the hypotheses that: (1) supplementary arginine, citrulline, and daily chloroquine increase bioavailable arginine and flow-mediated dilatation (FMD; maximal diameter change; FMDmax%), a measure of nitric oxide-dependent endothelial function; and (2) protein energy supplementation in the form of ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF) improves the height-for-age and body-mass index-for-age Z-scores in children with sickle-cell disease. METHODS: We performed a double-blind, random order crossover trial with two 4-month intervention periods (each followed by 4-month washout periods) in Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. We enrolled 119 children from the Muhimbili Sickle Cohort who were aged 8-12 years, naive to hydroxyurea, and had documented HbSS phenotype. Two formulations of RUSF (providing 500 kcal/day) were tested: basic (RUSF-b), with which children also received weekly chloroquine (150 mg or 225 mg chloroquine base, dependent on bodyweight); and vascular (RUSF-v), which was fortified with arginine and citrulline (designed to achieve mean intakes of 0·2 g/kg per day of arginine and 0·1 g/kg per day of citrulline), and with which children received daily chloroquine (maximum 3 mg chloroquine base/kg per day). Children were randomly allocated to receive either RUSF-b first or RUSF-v first and, after a washout period, were then given the other treatment. The primary outcomes in comparing the two RUSF formulations were mean plasma arginine, arginine to ornithine ratio, and arginine to asymmetric dimethylarginine ratio, and mean FMDmax%. The primary outcomes of the combined effect of both RUSF interventions were mean height-for-age Z-score and body-mass index-for-age Z-score. Analyses were done on the eligible intention-to-treat population. This trial is registered with, number NCT01718054; and with ISRCTN74331412. FINDINGS: Between Aug 9, 2012, and Feb 26, 2014, 145 children were randomised (71 children to RUSF-v first and 74 children to RUSF-b first) and 119 children were treated, of whom 114 children yielded complete data for all reported endpoints. The ratio of arginine to ornithine (mean of individual differences -8·67%, 95% CI -19·55 to 2·20; p=0·12) and the mean FMDmax% (1·00, -0·47 to 2·47; p=0·18) did not significantly differ between the RUSF-b and RUSF-v treatments. However, the arginine to asymmetric dimethylarginine ratio was significantly increased by RUSF-v compared with RUSF-b (56·26%, 31·13 to 81·38; p<0·0001). In planned analyses that used mixed effects models to estimate the effect of each intervention compared with the participants at baseline or during washout periods, the arginine to asymmetric dimethylarginine ratio increased following both RUSF-v treatment (86%; p<0·0001) and RUSF-b treatment (40%; p<0·0001). However, FMDmax% was higher after treatment with RUSF-v (0·92; p<0·0001) but not RUSF-b (0·39; p=0·22). Following either intervention (RUSF-b and RUSF-v, pooled) body-mass index-for-age Z-score (0·091; p=0·001) and height-for-age Z-score (0·013; p=0·081) increased compared with baseline and washout timepoints. In 83 participants in the treated population, there were 71 adverse events during the intervention, of which 21 (30%) were serious, and 81 adverse events during the washout periods, of which 26 (32%) were serious (p=0·31), including one patient who died in the second washout period. INTERPRETATION: RUSF providing 500 kcal/day results in small weight gains in children with sickle-cell disease. However, even without arginine and citrulline fortification, RUSF seems to ameliorate arginine dysregulation and might improve endothelial function. Long-term studies are required to assess whether these physiological effects translate to improved clinical outcomes and better growth and development in patients with sickle-cell disease. FUNDING: Wellcome Trust.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet Haematol

Publication Date





e147 - e160