AUGUSTA, Ga. A study that may help personalize pain medication management for sickle cell disease patients is underway at Georgia Health Sciences University.
Dr. Cheedy Jaja, a nurse research scientist and Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Nursing, has received a three-year National Institutes of Health grant to determine if variations in genes known to play a role in metabolizing opioids could help physicians manage sickle cell pain.
The World Health Organization estimates that 275,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease each year. It is most common among African-Americans and people of Hispanic, Mediterranean, Caribbean or Southeast Asian descent.
In the United States, approximately 100,000 people have the disease, including one in four blacks. About 30 percent of patients don't respond well to analgesics prescribed for the debilitating episodic pain that is a hallmark of sickle cell disease.
"They have to go to the emergency department for help," Jaja said. "This core group keeps coming back and coming back."
Health care providers risk misidentifying these patients as drug seekers.
"Sickle cell is a lifelong condition in which a pain crisis can be triggered at any time," Jaja said. "The sad part is that two individuals may have the same disease, but how they experience pain differs vastly. So understanding this difference is critical in understanding how to manage the disease. These are simple questions in sickle cell research that have not been explored."
Ineffective pain management can predispose patients to increased drug tolerance or dependence.
Jaja, who completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pharmocogenetics at Indiana University before obtaining master's degrees in public health genetics and nursing from the University of Washington, had a "what if" moment during his emergency department rotation.
"It could be that the medication they've been given is not
|Contact: Sharron Walls|
Georgia Health Sciences University