Researchers inch closer to possible cure for sickle cell anemia

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) —  A cutting-edge clinical trial is being called a possible cure for sickle cell anemia. 

The painful disease affects 100,000 Americans every year, mostly African-Americans.

Sickle cell anemia causes some red blood cells to become deformed and die. 

People with the disorder often spend a great deal of time in hospitals and spend most of their days with excruciating pain. 

A Flordia woman underwent a year-long clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health.

There, doctors used new gene therapy in an effort to find a cure.

The therapy uses HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS, as a means to treat patients. 

“The short answer is we cut out the bits that cause infection in HIV and we really replace that with the gene that’s misspelled in sickle cell disease so that it transfers that instead of the infectious part,” said Dr. John Tisdale, a hematologist. 

The results were pretty remarkable.

Jennelle Stephenson is showing no signs of sickle cell anemia after undergoing treatment. 

Paula Roberts, the office manager at Sickle Cell Foundation in Birmingham, watched the 60 Minutes report on the new gene therapy and says the discovery could be huge for people in the area dealing with tremendous pain every day. 

“It’s excruciating and not only is it a painful disease as it travels through your bloodstream, but it affects the organs, many of our clients have to have hip replacements many of them have to have shoulder replacements,” said Roberts.

As for what’s next, researchers are looking into ways the new gene therapy could be scaled up for the millions of people around the world who are suffering. 

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