Sickle Cell Anemia is a tough diagnosis, since it normally means a lot of pain and there is no cure. Seventy-thousand Americans are living with that disease.
"I have this throbbing pain in my leg, like somebody squeezing your leg really hard, like a giant is squeezing your leg and trying to break it." said Juanita Gougis, a sickle cell anemia patient.
Now a surprisingly simple discovery is bringing new hope to sickle cell patients. Researches have learned that a basic nutritional supplement is missing in sickle cells. The missing supplement is glutamine, an amino acid that is also common in food.
So, a research team led by Dr. Yutaka Niihara, applied glutamine to sickle cells in the lab. He found that the cells opened up and took on a normal shape.
Now, in a study sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration, they tried it on some patients and the results have been astonishing.
"We had about 85 percent success. We tried it on a child with a kidney dysfunction which is not uncommon for sickle cell patients. After starting on this medication, the kidney function started to normalize and this was really a fascinating story for me because this was one case where things actually reversed." said Dr. Niihara.
Juanita Gougis is one of the volunteers for the study, and after 18 months of treatment, she says she has been to the hospital once for pain. This is an improvement because she used to go six times a year.
So researchers are very hopeful that this discovery may bring new treatments for sickle cell anemia that could even be given during infancy to prevent later damage. But for now, studies continue