(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Is there a way to ensure that people suffering from sickle cell anemia get the life-extending treatment they need?
That’s a question that Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine will be trying to answer. The school announced last week the award of a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to do so.
The grant is to pay for a five-year study on ways to reduce barriers to health care for adults with the genetic blood disorder, according to Dr. Wally R. Smith, the principal investigator.
Dr. Smith stated in the grant announcement that VCU would conduct the study with support from the Eastern Virginia Medical School, the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk and the state Department of Health.
Sickle cell disorder mostly affects people from African or Mediterranean countries. More than100,000 Americans, mostly African-Americans, are estimated to have the defect that causes red blood cells to sickle and then get blocked in tiny blood vessels — creating severe pain and damaging organs.
Dr. Smith said there appears to be two main reasons that sickle cell sufferers are still failing to get appropriate treatment. First, he said, too many family doctors are not fully familiar with the proper use of the one drug, Hydroxyurea, that is available to treat sickle cell. Second, a major share of sufferers are never admitted to
specialty care that is needed for proper treatment.
“So many vital health advances never make it to the those who most need them,” Dr. Smith stated in the grant announcement, and "Hydroxyurea appears to be one of those advances.” Hydroxyurea was identified 17 years ago as an aid in treating the disorder.
He stated the grant would enable VCU and its partners to create a statewide, community-based strategy to enable adult sufferers to get the care and treatment they need.
The first phase of the grant, Dr. Smith stated, would be used to increase the percentage of adults receiving specialty care where their condition can be closely monitored. The second phase, he continued, would focus on ensuring adherence to standards involving the use of Hydroxyurea. Both VCU and the Eastern Virginia Medical School have long had programs to deal with sickle cell. VCU also has been involved in developing a new drug to target cell sickling.