September is National Sickle Cell Month in the U.S. It is a time to remind us all of the importance of this extraordinary disease. But, in perspective, we should be aware of sickle cell all year long every year.
Sickle cell disease is one of the most common inherited blood conditions. It is characterized by anemia with a low red blood cell count and takes its name from the presence of sickle-shaped red cells in the blood. They are caused by a mutation (change) in a gene that orders the formation of abnormal hemoglobin molecules in the red blood cells. (Hemoglobin is the molecule that plays the key role as the "oxygen carrier" in the blood.) The abnormal hemoglobin in persons with sickle cell disease causes their red blood cells to be distorted into the shape of a sickle.
While sickle cell is often thought of as a "black" disease, it is not exclusively so. Yes, it is concentrated in Americans of African origin. But it also occurs in many other groups of people including those whose ancestors were Greeks, Italians, Arabs, Latin Americans, Native Americans, etc. And not just in the U.S. This is a global disease.
The Medical Editors of MedicineNet.com are especially proud, during National Sickle Cell Month, to note that one of our own has made important contributions to research on the molecular problems related to sickle cell disease. Frederick Hecht M.D. and his colleagues including E Huehns, A Motulsky, R Koler and R Jones at the University of Washington and Oregon Health Sciences University did a number of pioneering studies of hemoglobin in the 60's and 70's. The results of their studies were published in journals such as Science and Nature and contributed significantly to our current understanding of the molecular basis of hemoglobin disorders. Dr. Hecht is Associate Chief Medical Editor of MedicineNet.com.
Please visit MedicineNet.com's Sickle Cell Center for much more information about Sickle Cell.