Blog 6: Different Approaches to Sickle Cell Disease – Let’s Talk About Them! – My Sickle Cell Research Xplained

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Blog 6: Different Approaches to Sickle Cell Disease – Let’s Talk About Them!

Research has brought us a long way in sickle cell disease and there are more approaches being studied now. So, it’s important to keep talking to your doctor about what is being researched.

While some of us may think of opioids or pain medications when we think of sickle cell treatment, those medications only help with the symptoms of sickle cell disease. Other therapies are being researched to target other aspects of sickle cell disease. We’ll focus on how different approaches are being studied for sickle cell disease in this blog!

Recap of Sickle Cell Disease

Remember in sickle cell disease, the red blood cells are shaped like crescent moons or sickles, instead of round discs. Sickle-shaped cells can stick to each other and to other cells, clump together, and potentially block blood flowing through blood vessels. When there’s trouble with blood getting to certain parts of the body, it can lead to organ damage and pain (vaso-occlusive crises).

The Different Approaches

Different approaches being studied for sickle cell disease patients fall into different “buckets.” Each “bucket” tries to tackle the disease in a different way.

Bucket #1

Approach 1: Decrease the number of sickle-shaped red blood cells

Why:
so that there are more red blood cells that are bigger, rounder, and more flexible. That way, they are more likely to work properly and can increase your overall hemoglobin (blood count) level. Research has been done to see if this approach has any effect on:

  • frequency of vaso-occlusive crises (painful episodes when sickle-shaped red blood cells and other cells block blood flowing through small vessels to organs)
  • lung complication episodes (acute chest syndrome)
  • need for blood transfusion
  • rate of pain crises requiring hospitlizations

Bucket #2

Approach 2: Decrease stress on sickle-shaped red blood cells

Why:
so that red blood cells are healthier and less stiff. Research has been done to see if this approach has any effect on:

  • number of short-term complications from sickle cell disease
  • number of hospital stays
  • number of vaso-occlusive crises (painful episodes when sickle-shaped red blood cells and other cells block blood flowing through small vessels to organs)
  • incidence of lung complication episodes (acute chest syndrome)

Bucket #3

Approach 3: Make red blood cells and other cells less sticky

Why:
so that they don’t clump together and block blood vessels. Research has been done to see if this approach has any effect on:

  • frequency of vaso-occlusive crises (painful episodes when sickle-shaped red blood cells and other cells block blood flowing through small vessels to organs)
  • number of days hospitalized

Bucket #4

Approach 4: Increase red blood cells’ attraction to oxygen

Why:
so that they do a better job at hanging on to oxygen and delivering it. Research has been done to see if this approach helps:

  • increase hemoglobin levels (blood count)

As you can see, there are several approaches (many buckets) being studied to try to help those with sickle cell disease. And there are more buckets to come and in development! Research is ongoing to learn more about ways to help those with sickle cell disease.

For more information about the current state of sickle cell research and treatment, visit:

http://www.scdcoalition.org/priorities/research.html#current-state

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