Each September is recognized as Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month. September of 2010 takes on special significance because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first published report of sickle cell disease in Western medical literature. In honor of James B. Herrick, M.D., the Chicago physician who made this discovery, the NHLBI is hosting a symposium in November to reflect upon a century of sickle cell disease research and to look ahead to improved treatment options.
The NHLBI has been involved in the effort to improve the lives of people with sickle cell disease throughout its history. One of the first research grants awarded by the newly created National Heart Institute in 1948 was given to Dr. James V. Neel to study the inheritance of sickle cell disease. Over the past four decades, children diagnosed with sickle cell disease have dramatically improved survival into adulthood with far fewer disabilities. Indeed, the expectation today is that people with sickle cell disease will live well into middle age and often beyond. The challenge now is to improve the quality of their lives and ensure that they receive optimal care. Research on sickle cell disease has laid the groundwork for an understanding of molecular biology, led to advances in other fields of medicine, and helped shape the field of genetics.
Thanks to people affected with sickle cell disease and to their families who participate in clinical trials, researchers have made many advances in treating the disease and improving patients’ quality of life. Our work is far from over. We remain committed to learning all there is to know about sickle cell disease, as well as finding better treatments and even cures.