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Sickle Cell Disease and the Need for Neonatal Testing Programs in Africa, with an Emphasis on Kenya

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Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that can cause substantial helath problems. It is the result of a mutation in the DNA coding for hemoglobin. As a result of

Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that can cause substantial helath problems. It is the result of a mutation in the DNA coding for hemoglobin. As a result of changes in two important amino acids, a person suffering from sickle cell disease will have erythrocytes that do not maintain the typical biconcave shape and instead for a crescent shape. Individuals with sickle cell disease may have many health problems tied to their irregular hemoglobin. The unusual shape of the erythrocytes leads to a much shorter cell life, which means that even though bone marrow remains active long past childhood to try to keep up with the loss of erythrocytes, the body is still unable to accommodate the rapid death of erythrocytes. The malformed erythrocytes can also cause vascular occlusion, blocking blood vessels and slowing blood flow. While sickle cell disease has the potential to spread worldwide, it is particularly common in Africa. This may be because people with the sickle cell trait have a high resistance to malaria, making them more likely to survive that ubiquitous disease and pass on their traits to their offspring. However, the mortality rate in young children with sickle cell disease is very high, in part because the spleen, already stressed by filtering out dead erythrocytes, has difficulties filtering out bacteria. One of the keys to stopping the spread of the disease is neonatal screening, but this requires specialized equipment that is fairly uncommon in rural areas, as can be seen in Kenya. Therefore, it would be highly beneficial to develop a more cost-effective and widely available method for testing for sickle cell disease.

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  • 2012-05