I was in high school when I first heard about sickle cell anemia. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember learning that it was a genetic disease inherited when both parents have at least the trait of sickle cell. It surprised me that so many people were impacted by this without knowing it was a risk. I made the commitment then that I would be sure to talk about it with my future husband before we had children. I never asked the question. Luckily neither of us had the trait, but many do and we need to talk about it. With this being National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, I am putting it back on the table for our discussion.
Here are some quick facts:
- 1870s – Sickle cell symptoms began to be documented in medical texts
- 1949 – Sickle cell was identified as a genetic disease, meaning it is caused by a change in someone’s DNA sequence
- 1972 – The National Association for Sickle Cell Disease was established
- 1994 – It was found that long-term blood transfusions reduced hospitalizations
- 1998 – The first treatment for sickle cell was approved by the FDA
- 2006 – The World Health Organization declared sickle cell a global crisis, and the U.S. began screening every child born
- 2009 – Blood stem cell transplants were shown to stop the progression of sickle cell
- 2019 – FDA approved two more drugs to reduce pain crisis and treat sickle cell
This timeline gives you a sense of how long we have known and understood that sickle cell was a genetic disease. The reality is that it predominately impacts people of African descent, and it will not surprise you that this genetic disease has gone under-researched and underfunded. Today, it is estimated to impact approximately 100,000 Americans, and the breakdown racially is as follows:
- ~1 in 365 African American births
- ~1 in 16,300 Hispanic births
- ~1 in 25,800 Asian births
- ~1 in 41,600 Non-Hispanic White births
We have been dealing with this genetic disease for a long time. We have to ask: can genomics play a role in the cure? The good news is it can and is playing a role. Barbara Harrison, Assistant Professor at Howard University Medical College, explains more in my latest podcast.
This is another reason why genomics matter as we forge our way to equitable health care for all.
Our theme song is “Genetics” by Meghan Trainor.