April 2, 2003
A drug typically associated with AIDS and cancer treatments also reduces the disabling pain of sickle cell anemia and can considerably lower death rates from the blood disorder, researchers say. Dr. Duane Bonds of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said most sickle-cell patients who need the drug, hydroxyurea, are not getting it. Bonds co-authored a government-funded study of adult sickle-cell patients and found that those who used hydroxyurea at least periodically were 40 percent less likely to die during the study than those who never used the drug. "Now there is new hope for these patients, who typically die 10-15 years earlier than patients with milder cases," said Dr. Claude Lenfant, the institute's director. The study covered 299 patients. About 72,000 Americans, most of them black, have the inherited blood disorder, which deprives organs and tissues of adequate blood supply and causes severe pain. The full report, "Effect of Hydroxyurea on Mortality and Morbidity in Adult Sickle Cell Anemia: Risks and Benefits Up to 9 Years of Treatment," appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association (2003;289:1645-1651).