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Studies Investigate Emerging Trends and Treatment Options for Patients With Sickle Cell Disease
Date:12/6/2009

ies oxygen. Shortly after birth, a switch to beta-globin gene expression normally occurs, which leads to the production of adult hemoglobin. Both fetal and adult hemoglobin function similarly, though fetal hemoglobin has a greater affinity for binding with oxygen.

Patients with sickle cell disease have a defective form of adult hemoglobin that causes their red blood cells to become deformed and sickle shaped. As a result, the cells are unable to efficiently carry oxygen to the body's tissues and often stick together and jam vessels, causing blood flow obstruction and episodes of severe pain. If a patient with sickle cell could continue production of the fetal hemoglobin and produce less of their defective adult sickle hemoglobin, many of their complications could possibly be reduced or eliminated. A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston studied the therapeutic possibility of turning the genetic "switch" back on for the production of fetal hemoglobin to replace the defective adult hemoglobin and alleviate these devastating symptoms.

In previous studies, a gene called BCL11A was found to be involved in blocking the expression of fetal hemoglobin in adults. To test these findings in vivo and investigate the role of BCL11A in hemoglobin regulation at different developmental stages, the researchers performed genetic tests in both embryonic and adult mice that were genetically engineered to carry a complete human beta-globin gene cluster capable of producing adult hemoglobin.

In the embryonic mice, inactivation of the BCL11A gene led to a robust expression of gamma-globin (the fetal form of hemoglobin) during late gestation: more than 90 percent of the globin produced was of this type. Tissue-specific deletion of the BCL11A gene in the adult mice (8-10 weeks old) resulted in an increase of more than 1,000-fold in gamma-globin gene expression in the bone marrow erythroblasts (the prec
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SOURCE American Society of Hematology
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