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Hardships, and new hope, for sickle cell patients

Sickle cell disease affects about 100,000 people in the United States, most of them African Americans. Over the last four decades, the average life expectancy for patients has jumped from age 14 to the 50s and higher, thanks mainly to newborn screening programs, preventive care, and antibiotic treatments to prevent associated infections, along with assistance from hydroxyurea, a drug approved in 1998.

Now, promising new treatments are on the horizon for this chronic disease, which, though not immediately fatal, can cause complications that dramatically affect patients’ day-to-day lives.

Hydroxyurea, the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sickle cell disease, makes blood cells function more normally, reducing pain and helping organs work better. Unfortunately, for various reasons like fertility concerns and patients’ fears about potential side effects, less than half of the people with sickle cell disease are taking it.

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