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Decoding the Docile/Diffuclt Defeat of Sickle Cell Disease

By Mahika Khosla and Vira Patil Feb. 14, 2024



Jude Tantawy Art

At any given moment, humans have between 20 trillion to 30 trillion red blood cells. The circular shape of these cells allow them to transport oxygen, excrete waste and generate nutrients. A dangerous disease, called sickle cell anemia, deforms the shape of red blood cells to be crescent-like, blocking blood flow and leading to other fatal repercussions. Recently, two gene therapy treatments, Casgevy and Lyfgenia, have proven to be successful in treating the disease, but their $2 million to $3 million cost has made it difficult for moderate and low-income families to access this medicine. 


Sickle cell disease affects more than 100,000 people in the U.S. and 20 million people worldwide. It also disproportionately harms minorities—according to the National Institutes of Health, about one in every 365 African American babies is born with sickle cell disease. Those who have this disease face chronic pain, fatigue and struggle to sleep. They are frequently hospitalized and at high risk for organ failure.


In the past, sickle cell anemia was treated by blood transfusions, which decreased the concentration of sickle cells. However, this is not a sustainable solution because the body will continue to produce more misshapen blood cells.

“Improving treatments for a disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans must be a medical priority. Medical institutions should invest in treatment now to decrease the amount of people with sickle cell in the future,” Sophomore Nicole Chin said. 

According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Casgevy recorded that more than 90% of their patients saw elimination of their pain after receiving treatment during their trial runs. 


For both gene therapies, the stem cells—cells with the potential to differentiate into different types of cells—of the patient are removed and sent to the lab to be edited. The patient then undergoes chemotherapy, a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in the body. The process can be anywhere from four to six weeks long and requires the patient to be hospitalized twice. Moreover, patients are at risk of infertility and hair loss and are more vulnerable to infection.


Aside from medical drawbacks, the staggering cost of these two gene therapies render them inaccessible to many: The list price for Lyfgenia is $3.1 million and $2.2 million for Casgevy. More than 1 million people with sickle cell disease live in India and more than 5 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. There, patients suffer disproportionately with affording treatments and generally lack awareness of the sickle cell disease.

“While I have not experienced any hardships with the medical system, I have heard of how the healthcare system has created unavailability of appointments and financial barriers for minorities,” Freshman Christina Flynn said. 

As stated by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the American system is ridden with issues such as insufficient access to care, rising costs and societal inequalities. Optimistically, the development of treatments for sickle cell disease has created ample room for a stronger push toward increased healthcare accessibility and long-term efficacy to ensure sustainable care for all individuals.


 

About the Contributors



Mahika Khosla

staff writer


Mahika Khosla is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys reading novels, watching movies with popcorn, and creating board games.





Vira Patil

staff writer


Vira Patil is a junior at Leland high school, and this is her first year as a staff writer on The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys to binge TV shows, spend time with her family, and play the piano.




Jude Tantawy

artist


Jude Tantawy is a senior at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys drawing & painting, cooking, baking, playing video games, and is always listening to music.

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