Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease that causes red blood cells to be crescent-shaped, which makes them easily stuck in small blood vessels, keeping oxygen from reaching parts of the body.
Ever since the human genome was sequenced in 2001, the possibility of curing genetic diseases has been real.
However new breakthroughs at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Alabama Birmingham are using gene therapy to find potential cures for sickle cell anemia - using the HIV virus!
How so? At the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Tisdale and his collaborators created a gene with the “correct spelling” for sickle cell, then used the HIV virus to transport the corrected gene into the DNA of cells.
Dr. Julie Kanter at the University of Alabama Birmingham describes the HIV virus - often unnecessarily stigmatized - as an “envelope.” By deleting the harmful parts of the virus, and filling it with a “letter” that has the healthy code that spells the right kind of hemoglobin, the virus helps sickle cell make normal hemoglobin.
These are incredibly exciting breakthroughs and, with sickle cell anemia disproportionately harming our community, it is great news for us.