NATIONAL - Sickle cell disease affects millions of people. Researchers know what causes it and how it affects the body, but there's no cure.
Researcher Donald Abraham is excited about a potential new treatment for sickle cell disease. "It's the best thing I have seen in my what, 37 years in this field. It's by far the best. It has the best chance."
"It" is a treatment that could change sickle-shaped blood cells back to normal. Dr. Abraham says, "Anti-sickling will move it back to the donut shape, going from this to the donut shape."
Healthy red blood cells are round and flexible and easily squeezed through blood vessels. In sickle cell disease, the cells are stiff and crescent-shaped. They get stuck and block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the limbs and organs.
Lucy Brown, 48, says, "Your joints ache, your stomach aches, your back aches, you can ache all over with it."
Brown was born with sickle cell disease. She takes medication to control painful episodes. "If there was something that could stop them completely, that would be a blessing. Yes, it would."
Doctor Abraham's anti-sickling molecule may be the answer to her prayers. "This molecule, 5-HMF, really is a breakdown product in many foods and in plants. So, it's really common in nature."
Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University say 5-HMF works by attaching itself to red blood cells, increasing their supply of oxygen. Dr. Abraham says, "What you want to do to treat sickle cell is you want to oxygenate this because when it's in the oxygenated red form, it won't sickle."
A drug containing the molecule is in the works. Until then, Lucy remains on pins and needles coping with the pain.
The national Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is funding studies on 5-HMF. It may take years before it's available to patients.
Xechem International has already signed on to market the drug.