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Movement Afoot to Yank Yuck Factor From Medicine

Blocking bitter taste could help children and others comply

MONDAY, Sept. 30, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If researchers from a New Jersey company are successful, parents won't need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down anymore.

Scientists from Linguagen Corp recently received a $746,000 grant from the U.S. government to develop a compound that would block the bitter taste of many over-the-counter medications.

Currently, most medications are either placed in capsules or in a sugary liquid to mask the flavor, explains lead researcher Stephen Gravina.

Linguagen scientists have already pinpointed the genes that let humans perceive bitter taste.

"Now, we're looking for ways to block [the action of the genes] at the taste bud so the taste tissue doesn't recognize the bitter taste," Gravina says.

They hope to use a naturally occurring compound to accomplish this task. The compound would bind to the bitter-tasting molecules and short circuit the signal going back to the brain.

Gravina says they expect the compound will be safe and effective, and that it will probably not need to go through the same U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process as medications do. Gravina believes the compound will fall into the FDA's "generally recognized as safe" category because it is natural and only a taste modifier.

If all goes well, he says the compound could be commercially available in as little as two years.

"This sounds wonderful," says Michelle Kromelis, the pharmacy manager for investigational drugs at Children's Medical Center of Dallas. "It would be a godsend for us."

"We really struggle with getting kids to keep medicines down," she explains. "If they don't like it, the spit it right back out at you." She says you can't always mask the taste of some medications, and older children actually can't stand the syrupy sweetness of some drugs.

If you can get a child to take a drug once, but they don't like the taste or the texture, it's nearly impossible to get them to take it again, she adds.

The problem isn't limited to children, however. Many AIDS drugs are so bitter that they can leave a bad taste on the tongue long after they're ingested, and patients have been known to discontinue them for that reason.

The only concern Kromelis voiced about the compound is that researchers need to ensure that it doesn't interfere with the action of the medication.

What To Do

Here are some tips on giving youngsters medications from the American Academy of Pediatrics via Kids Healthworks and from the Nemours Foundation.

SOURCES: Stephen Gravina, Ph.D., associate director, Linguagen Corp., Paramus, N.J.; Michelle Kromelis, R.Ph., pharmacy manager, investigational drugs, Children's Medical Center, Dallas
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