Flipping the fetal hemoglobin switch reverses sickle cell symptoms



SAN DIEGO – Researchers were able to “flip the switch” from the adult to fetal form of hemoglobin using autologous stem cells genetically modified to simultaneously induce the fetal form of hemoglobin and decrease sickle hemoglobin.

The advance was announced by investigators at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. At 6 months of follow-up, one adult patient in the proof-of-concept study has experienced a reversal of the sickle cell phenotype, with no pain episodes or respiratory or neurologic events.

The fetal form of hemoglobin is known to be protective against the signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease, but apart from a few rare exceptions, people with the disorder begin to experience debilitating symptoms as levels of the fetal form begin to decline in early childhood and levels of the adult form of hemoglobin steadily rise.

In this video interview, Erica B. Esrick, MD, from the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, describes the novel approach of using RNA interference to knock down a repressor that suppresses expression of gamma globin in sickle cell disease.

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