A new research done by Stanford University, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that having the genes that causes sickle cell disease does not increase the risk of death.
The results were extremely well received from athletes since it was believed that carrying the genes could amplify the chances of dying while having tremendous physical exertion, like intense training. The concern only grew when sudden deaths of athletes increased, like football player Ted Agu, in 2014. However, the study did found that soldiers who carry the disease increased their risk of suffering injury from overexertion.
“I find these results incredibly reassuring,” said Lianne Kurina, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford and author of the study. “I think people will be surprised. But we can be confident about these results.”
Insight on sickle cell disease
Sickle cell disease is a group of blood disorders that are passed down genetically. Is most common variation is the sickle cell anemia, where the hemoglobin found in the red blood cells has an abnormal sickle shape, interfering with the blood flood. This disorder can cause extreme pain, bacterial infections, stroke, anemia, and death.
Sickle cell occurs when a person inherits two copies of the gene, one for each parent. The disease primarily affects black people. Around 8 percent of the black population has the gene. In the other hand, only 1 percent of Latinos are carriers, compared with only about 1 in 10,000 regarding white people.
Carriers of only one gene are usually considered healthy, since the fit gene dominates, making the majority of the blood cells retain its standard shape.
The research yielded unexpected results
The team of researchers studied 48,000 black American soldiers on active duty in the U.S. Army for four years and who had done the test for diagnosing sickle cell genes. During the research, almost 400 of the soldiers suffered exertional rhabdomyolysis – muscle breakdown that can lead to organ failures. Those with the sickle cell gene were 54 percent more likely to develop the condition.
However, the risk also increased in soldiers who were obese, smoked, took drugs or were over 36 years old. The increased risk was small for both the group that had the genes and the group who hadn’t, the first having 1.2 percent and the second, 0.8 percent.
How it affects black athletes
In 2010, the National Collegiate Athletic Association began requiring that all college athletes had to be tested for the gene, following a series of deaths. Then, in 2014, Ted Agu, aged 21 and a defensive lineman for the California Golden Bears, died after a highly extorting training.
His parents sued the University of California, Berkeley, and the case was settled in April for $4.75 million. The essential testing requirement has proved to be very controversial, since many believe it can be used to perpetuate institutionalized discrimination, especially among black people.
“Based on your genetic makeup, we put a stamp on your forehead and say, You have to be treated differently,” said Frans Kuypers, a sickle cell expert at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. “And not really because of any risk factors. Anecdotal data and litigation drove this whole thing,” he added.
Sources: The Washington Post