June 24, 2008

Effective Sickle Cell Therapy is Underused

A U.S. study finds uncertainties about proper use and possible negative effects of an effective sickle cell drug may be influencing doctors not to use it.

A literature review by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers suggests physicians might be wrongly avoiding prescribing hydroxyurea for those in serious need.

We know that many people with sickle cell disease aren't being offered this drug, which is the only one we have to treat this disease, said Dr. Sophie Lanzkron, an assistant professor who led the study for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Lanzkron and colleagues analyzed data from 246 studies and found the number of intensely painful sickle cell crises, caused when misshapen sickled red blood cells clump in blood vessels, dropped by as much as 84 percent in people taking hydroxyurea, while hospital admissions declined by up to 32 percent.

On the negative side, studies in mice indicated hydroxyurea impairs sperm development and the researchers conclude that effect might also occur in humans.

In the team report, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, they said hydroxyurea should be considered a viable treatment option, but emphasized the need for more research.