NIH scientist transforming treatment of sickle cell disease

Posted: August 8, 2014 at 12:42 am

By Partnership for Public Service August 5

Dr. Griffin Rodgers spends most of his waking hours leading the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), but he also manages to carve out time to work on a life-long passion discovering a cure for sickle cell disease.

Long before becoming the director of NIDDK, Rodgers was credited with discovering the first effective therapy for sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that affects more than 90,000 Americans, most of them African-Americans. The disease, which affects millions of people throughout the world, can damage bones, joints and internal organs, cause acute and chronic pain, and often result in premature death.

Prior to his discovery of a drug treatment in the 1990s, the only options for sickle cell patients were blood transfusions for pain and supportive care.

This initial breakthrough has been followed by the recent announcement that Rodgers and a team of National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers have developed a modified blood stem-cell transplant regimen that is highly effective in reversing sickle cell disease in adults. The findings, based on a clinical trial of 30 patients, represent a potentially transformative treatment.

Dr. Neal Young, chief of NIHs Hematology Branch of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said Rodgers has been the driving force behind the advanced medical treatments for people with sickle cell disease. His work, said Young, is a very big deal because it will save the lives and alleviate the suffering of thousands of people.

Dr. Thomas Starzl, a physician and researcher who performed the worlds first liver transplant, wholeheartedly concurred.

Griffin Rodgers work on sickle cell disease has been revolutionary, said Starzl. I can only give him rave reviewsfive stars.

Rodgers grew up in New Orleans where he had three high school friends who became debilitated with sickle cell disease. Two of those friends died in their teenage years and the third passed away a few years after high school.

These deaths left a tremendous impression on Rodgers, who pursued a medical career that led him to NIH in 1984 where he began his work on sickle cell disease. Over the years as he made his mark in the laboratory and the clinical setting, Rodgers also progressed through the managerial ranks, heading NIDDKs Molecular and Clinical Hematology Branch starting in 1998, becoming deputy director of NIDDK in 2001 and director of the institute in 2007.

NIH scientist transforming treatment of sickle cell disease

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