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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 13:31 GMT
New hope for sickle cell cure
Sickle cells
Sickle cells cannot travel through blood vessels easily

Many children with sickle cell disease could be cured with stem cell transplants, according to new medical research from France.

Doctors say they that 85% of children given the treatment are alive and disease-free after three years.

Currently there is no cure for sickle cell disease, a blood disorder affecting about 100,000 babies born each year, mostly to Afro-Caribbean or Asian parents.

Sickle cell disease
Stops oxygen flowing around the body
Can be fatal
Evolved to help fight malaria
Most common in people of African origin
Found in 20-30% of West Africans
Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition in which the body produces deformed red blood cells - shaped like a sickle rather than round, as they should be.

They do not carry oxygen around the body as effectively as they should, and make the blood too sticky.

The idea of using stem cell transplants has been investigated for a number of years now with mixed results.

Doctors first destroy the patient's bone marrow with powerful drugs, and replace it with stem cells taken from a healthy relative.

These stem cells then produce normal, healthy blood.

Sophisticated procedure

Speaking at the American Society of Haematology's annual meeting in Philadelphia, a team of French researchers say they have now devised a way of performing the operation which achieves consistent results.

Of 70 children treated, 85% were alive and healthy an average of three years after their operation.

Other doctors at the meeting said the results will change the way that sickle cell disease is treated in the west.

Whether stem cell transplants can be used in regions of the world most affected by sickle cell disease, such as Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, will however depend on the cost and availability of such a sophisticated procedure.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Health
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