NIH Clinical Center

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NIH News Release

For Immediate Release
Jan. 5, 1999

NIH Clinical Center Scientists Initiate Community Project

Scientists from the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health have initiated a pilot project that has taken them out of their Bethesda labs and into the local community to study a new treatment for sickle cell anemia.

"This pilot provides a unique opportunity because there is clearly a need for more and better treatment options for people living with this debilitating disease," says Dr. Frederick Ognibene, senior investigator in the Clinical Center's Critical Care Medicine Department. "We have been lucky enough to find people in our community who want to see an end to this disease and have been caring enough to participate in our pilot project."

"This research initiative and outreach efforts demonstrate the Clinical Center's commitment to identifying and meeting the health needs of our community," said Dr. John I. Gallin, director of the Clinical Center. "Clinical research is essential to the discovery of new knowledge that leads to better health for everyone."

Researchers from the Clinical Center and the NIH have visited local churches, hospitals, and support groups to talk with community members about the promising treatment and elicit participation in the study. The group is working with Howard University and Children's National Medical Center, as well as organizations such as the Armstead-Barnhill Foundation. The Foundation serves the community by developing new medical research options for sickle cell anemia patients.

"Our goal is to continue to achieve a strong community presence so that when we are ready to move into a clinical research study of a specific treatment, we will have a strong patient base," says Dr. Ognibene.

Sickle cell anemia is a painful, inherited blood disorder that strikes one in every 400 African Americans. The Clinical Center pilot examines the effects of nitric oxide, a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas, on hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the molecule in red blood cells that takes oxygen from the lungs and carries it throughout the body. Red blood cells usually have a rounded shape. In sickle cell anemia, the cells become elongated and "sickled." Those irregularly shaped cells tend to clog arteries, which slows the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Slowing of the blood flow causes the often-debilitating pain that sickle cell anemia patient's experience.

At the heart of the Clinical Center study is this question: Can nitric oxide contribute to better blood flow that will decrease the pain?

Researchers explain that the gas could work on the blood by:

"We have seen some pretty impressive early data and strong scientific support that indicate nitric oxide could be effective, " says Dr. Mark Gladwin, a member of the Critical Care Medicine Department at the NIH hospital and the study's principal investigator. "It's an avenue of clinical research and treatment we want to explore. Already we have had a gratifying response from community members excited to have an opportunity to participate."

The pilot, under the Clinical Center's leadership, is co-sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) will collaborate.

For specific trial information contact Dr. Mark Gladwin at (301) 496-9320.

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