No, a bionic baby did not come and save today’s world from global warming but in fact, embryonic cells could potentially save those who suffer from Sickle Cell Disease.
Sickle Cell Disease occurs as a result of a DNA letter change in the gene for hemoglobin, the main protein that carries oxygen for red blood cells. It is possible for the single mutation in the amino acid sequence to affect the entire protein because, as I learned in class, the chain of amino acids, formed by peptide bonds, constitutes the primary structure of proteins.
A recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that sickle cell disease, a disease that can be very debilitating and affects mostly African Americans, can be cured with the use of stem cells. This is important because the only cure that has been found so far is bone marrow transplants, which can be very painful and is not always successful. The researchers isolated a patient’s own bone marrow cells and used them to generate induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adults cells that can be reprogrammed into embryonic cells. These embryonic cells can then be coaxed into red blood cells, through the use of growth factors.
Despite this progress, Dr. Linzhao Cheng states that, “these immature red blood cells still behave like embryonic cells, and as a result are unable to turn on high enough levels of the adult hemoglobin gene” . The cells still need to be coaxed into mature red blood cells.
Even if these cells can be coaxed into maturity, can they be used to cure Sickle Cell Disease? Can babies actually save the day?