Time Has Finally Come for Sickle Cell Advancements

November 22, 2019

 

As a child, the pain crises of his sickle cell disease often landed Stephine McCants in the hospital for weeks at a time.

 

“I didn’t know how to deal with it,” he says. “I used to blame God. I used to blame everything -- because the pain would be that bad.”

 

Now McCants, 28, says the pain today is duller, though more frequent. The Philadelphia musician only ends up hospitalized once or twice a year. He takes medication, works out hard, drinks lots of water, and eats a healthy diet. He gets frequent massages from his sister, a massage therapist, and tries to avoid getting cold and wet, which he says can trigger an attack.

 

Stephine McCants, 28, of Philadelphia, has had sickle cell disease since he was a child.Still, he knows that the sticky, pointed red blood cells that course through his bloodstream are likely to cause more problems as he ages.Most people with sickle cell end up with organ damage caused when the misshapen cells clog blood vessels and tiny capillaries.

 

Average life expectancy is far shorter than for people without the disease. And until recently, the only available treatment for sickle cell was the same as it had been for decades.But change is coming for people like McCants.

 

In mid-November, the second drug in 3 years was approved to treat the symptoms of sickle cell. Dozens of clinical trials are underway, testing several other potential treatments. The federal government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced they would each contribute $100 million to provide effective sickle cell and HIV therapy in the developing world. And groups of scientists are testing gene therapies that offer a potential cure for sickle cell.

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