ATLANTA — Georgia Tech will host the Sickle Cell Disease Symposium bringing together researchers, policy experts and community advocates to discuss the latest research and strategies for future success in combating this complex and debilitating blood disorder. The symposium begins at Georgia Tech’s Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience tonight and concludes tomorrow evening.
“There’s a misconception that sickle cell disease solely affects African Americans and that it does not represent a health disparity. All races can be affected and the disease is most prevalent in those with ancestry from sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, the Mediterranean and Latin and South America,” said conference organizer Gilda Barabino, professor and associate chair for graduate studies in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “Sickle cell disease is prevalent in populations that face social, economic, cultural, structural, geographical and other barriers to comprehensive and quality care and, as such is among the diseases that involve health disparities.”
Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder that results in patients having mostly hemoglobin S in their blood streams. Patients with this disorder often have red blood cells that take on a sickle shape, rather than the typical disc shape. The sickle-shaped blood cells are less pliable than normal red blood cells, making it difficult for blood to pass through small blood vessels. When sickle cells clog up small blood vessels, less fresh blood can flow to that tissue, causing damage and the eventual complications that accompany sickle cell disease.
“There is no cure for sickle cell disease, and existing therapies are limited in their benefit to patients. This blood disorder involves virtually every organ system, and each must be addressed in the context of the other systems,” said Barabino. “While understandably, since Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder, hematological perspectives have dominated, there is much to learn from other areas to include perspectives on public health, nutrition, health outcomes and surveillance. Future translational advances in the next century will only occur through integrated approaches that view the patient in total and draw on the tools and technologies of a variety of disciplines.”
The symposium will gather experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the University of Southern California, the University of California – San Francisco, the University of Minnesota, the University of Virginia, the University of the West Indies and Medical College of Georgia as well as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.
By bringing together scientists, policy experts and consumers, the organizers hope to build a true community amongst researchers aiming to develop treatments and possible cures for this disease. They also aim to strengthen existing partnerships and develop a blueprint for research that establishes the state of Georgia as an unrivaled leader in this field.
“Sickle cell disease is a very complicated and debilitating genetic blood disorder for which a cure and effective treatment strategies remain elusive, even 100 years after the initial discovery of the disease. By bringing together these groups, we seek to work across boundaries and deliver a blueprint for an integrated sickle cell research strategy,” said Barabino.