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  1. 5 Women Pioneers of Sickle Cell Research You Should Know About Now

    March 9, 2016 by Andrea
    Photo: Gratisography

    Photo: Gratisography

    ICYMI, yesterday was International Women's Day -- and the entire month of March is Women's History Month. That's why, this week, we're recognizing five female pioneers of sickle cell research, one for each week of the month.

    1) Angella Ferguson
    A Howard Grad and one of few females at the time to be admitted into medical school, Dr. Ferguson began her career as a pediatrician studying the development of SCD in African-American babies in the 1950s. Through her research, she was able to develop a blood test to diagnose sickle cell in infants. That test became the national standard in 40 states by 2010.

    2) Dr. Helen M. Ranney
    One of the first to delve into the actual genetic makeup of sickle cell, Dr. Ranney also started her research in the 1950s, during which she was able to devise a way for doctors to tell normal hemoglobin apart from abnormal hemoglobin. This method gave way to another procedure she developed to identify adult carriers of the sickle cell gene.

    3) Henrietta Lacks
    You may be familiar with Henrietta, as her entire story was the basis of the Rebecca Skloot's book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." (BTW: If you haven't read it yet, we highly recommend it.) To summarize, Henrietta Lacks was a poor, Black tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer at the age of 31. During her surgery to implant radiation tubes in early 1951, several months before her death, the doctor removed cancerous cells, as well as healthy cells -- without her permission. Those healthy cells have become known as "immortal" because they are still multiplying rapidly in labs across the country. Not only has research done with these cells led to breakthroughs in sickle cell disease treatments, but also in a variety of other conditions.

    4) Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna
    This team created a gene-editing method for doctors to add/remove genetic material at will -- similarly to how you might add/remove programs from your computer's control panel. Being able to alter abnormal genes, like the ones that can cause sickle cell disease is important to working toward better treatment and an eventual cure.

    5) Marilyn Hughes Gaston
    As a medical intern at Philadelphia General Hospital in the 1960s, Dr. Gaston became interested in sickle cell disease and went on to specialize in it. Upon completing her internship, she became director of the Sickle Cell Disease Center in Cincinnatti, Ohio and after four years, moved on to the National Institutes of Health. There, she published a study about how long-term treatment with antibiotics can help prevent septic infections in infants with sickle cell. This study also led to government legislation and funding of sickle cell-related programs and education.

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