History of Sickle Cell

Understanding the background of sickle cell can help you and your loved ones have more meaningful conversations about sickle cell awareness.

Evolution of Sickle Cell

As you may have already learned, a person has sickle cell trait when they inherit one copy of an abnormal (sickle) HBB gene and one copy of a normal HBB gene. What’s interesting to note is that humans began developing the abnormal HBB gene as an evolutionary response to malaria.

This is because the parasite that causes malaria is halted by sickled cells, making people who carry sickle cell trait more resistant to the disease. This is also why sickle cell trait occurs more frequently among those who are descendants of tropical and sub-tropical regions where malaria is or was common.

Barriers to Care

While sickle cell symptoms have been documented in medical texts since the 1870s, it was not formally identified in the United States until 1910. Dr. James Herrick described the disease as a “peculiar, elongated sickle-shaped “, noting the unusual red blood cells were sickle shaped. Sickle cell is a disease that impacts people of all races, but disproportionately affects Black Americans in the United States. It is often perceived as a “Black disease”, which unfortunately has caused racial bias and prevented people with sickle cell from receiving the highest-quality care. This racial bias has also created barriers to care for other communities. Challenges with sickle cell awareness among Black, Latino, White, and other populations all play a role in care for sickle cell.

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Breaking Barriers, Building Hope for Sickle Cell Warriors