Touching Lives - September 2004
New treatments could end sickle cell misery
Sickle cell disease is a serious blood condition that affects over 10,000 people in the UK and millions worldwide. It causes the red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body to change shape and means that they cannot fit through very small blood vessels, leading to blockages and damage to tissue.
There is currently no effective treatment. Patients may suffer a series of sickle cell crises when their ‘sickle’ shaped red blood cells cause a blockage in blood vessels — leading to excruciating pain and ultimately serious damage to the kidneys, lungs, bones, eyes and the central nervous system.
Oxford University team
A team of researchers from Oxford University, working in conjunction with colleagues at Cambridge University, now hopes to get a step closer to effective treatment.
With a £95,000 grant from Action Medical Research, they are looking at how conditions in the body’s circulation cause sickle cell crises and how the use of drugs can prevent the condition by stopping the rogue red cells from changing shape.
Dr John Gibson, who leads the three-year study with Professor Clive Ellory, told us, “There are several hundred new cases of sickle cell disease every year in the UK and worldwide millions of people are affected. This is a genetic disease that causes symptoms throughout life. There is no effective treatment; ^all we can do at the moment is give supportive therapy, treat the pain and give blood transfusions^ to literally rid the body of these sickle cells.”
A team of researchers, support staff and clinicians including Dr Joe Browning, Dr Yuliya Kucherenko, Hannah Robinson, Vicky Ball, Dr Christine Wright and Dr Sarah Ball are working on the project, using blood samples from a group of volunteer patients mainly based at the Birmingham NHS Trust.
Dr Gibson said, “We hope that ultimately our research will lead to a better understanding of sickle cell disease and to effective treatments. Patients suffering from sickle cell disease find it impossible to lead a normal life and often have to deal with one crisis after another. Children with the condition are susceptible to lung infections and even strokes. An effective treatment would transform their lives.”