THE vast majority of individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) are born in sub-Saharan Africa, where easy access to high-intensity medical care is limited.
SCD is one of the most common genetic diseases in the world. Over 300,000 babies with SCD are born annually; most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
This number is expected to increase to up to 400,000 individuals by 2050.
Half of the world’s SCD population lives in three countries: Nigeria, India, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the disease affects up to 2% of the population.
Nigeria alone has been estimated to have at least 150,000 newborns born with SCD annually.
The survival of individuals with SCD has been steadily increasing. In contrast, SCD-related childhood mortality in Africa remains as high as 50 to 90%, with fewer than half of affected children reaching their fifth birthday.
But now, there is new hope.
From patients suffering from sickle-cell to those who’ve been injured in an accident or are simply anemic, blood transfusions are necessary all the time across the globe.
Using a small sample of a patient’s own blood, scientists can now reprogramme red blood cells into master stem cells and then coax them back into their red blood cell form that is unique to each patient. They can then grow the red blood cells repeatedly in the lab.
Personalised blood could meet patients’ transfusions demands and reduce the effects of disease. The process could assist millions of people worldwide who need blood products.
While the process has yet to be perfected, stem cell derived blood might be available for transfusions in the general population relatively soon.