Sickle cell disease is a serious condition that refers to a group of red blood cell disorders.When someone has sickle cell disease, it means their hemoglobin levels are abnormal. It is also an inherited disease, which means it can be passed down from patients to their children.
I spent the past few years learning about how biochemistry is the medical discipline that helps doctors treat patients who are suffering from conditions such as sickle cell disease.
Many people see biochemistry as a research-oriented career that does not have much practical use. I will admit that I was guilty of having the same view when I first started taking science courses at college.
I wanted to do something more interesting and practical. It is what I would always tell my professors during my freshman and sophomore years of college. But then I learned more about biochemistry and began to see its value.
Understanding Diseases Such as Sickle Cell
No disease can be fought off or prevented without understanding how and why it happens. It is the same with sickle cell disease.
During my biochemistry education, I learned about the cause of sickle cell disease in the body. I learned about how a small defect in a person’s genes can result in the production of a “beta globin” within hemoglobin in the body.
The result of this small defect is sickle cell disease. And it is passed on from parents to children. If only one parent has the gene defect, the child is considered to have a sickle cell trait. It means they have the trait in their body, but they are otherwise healthy.
When both parents have the defect, it is very likely their child will develop sickle cell disease.
Treatment of Sickle Cell Disease
Another reason why biochemistry is so important is because it is a major reason why patients are able to live a full life while suffering from conditions such as sickle cell.
Whether sickle cell disease is diagnosed in a child or young adult, they are put on various medications to ensure they do not develop symptoms or complications.
And many of these medications are viable for treating the condition because of the research done by biochemists. It is why I am so excited to be graduating in a few months, as I will soon play a bigger role in such research and testing.
For instance, medicine such as penicillin helps children avoid infection that could bring serious complications to sickle cell disease. Immunizations for conditions such as Pneumococcus, Influenza and Meningococcus also help a lot.
Again, these are preventive measures that come through the research and testing done by biochemists.
Sometimes it can feel frustrating to not have a direct line to patients. Being a biochemist is not the same as being a doctor or surgeon. But I also know how valuable my work will be in the future.
It is most definitely not boring, impractical work! Biochemistry is the reason why conditions such as sickle cell disease are not as big a threat to patients as they were decades ago.