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Sickle Cell Research Center to Open on UTD Campus

By Kurt Hubler, KERA

Dallas, TX – [Ambient sound from clinic waiting room.]

Kurt Hubler, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Twice a week, the Children's Medical Center of Dallas conducts its Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease Clinic. Its Associate Medical Director, Dr. Zora Rogers, says up to 125 infants in Texas are born with the disease each year.

Zora Rogers, M.D., Associate Medical Director, Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease Clinic, Children's Medical Center of Dallas: This is a place where the focus of our teaching is to give the parents the extra information they need to take care of the child. These children may start to have problems by six months of age.

Hubler: Those problems stem from hemoglobin cells forming curved or sickle shapes that block blood vessels, cutting off oxygen to parts of the body. If it occurs in the liver or spleen, where a person's blood is filtered, the result can be failure or loss of that organ. Beginning in August, the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson will open a research center to find better treatments and ultimately a cure for sickle cell disease. UTD President Dr. Franklyn Jenifer says the facility will continue the school's tradition of research and make a positive impact in the African American community, the ethnic group most affected by the disease.

Franklyn Jenifer, President, University of Texas at Dallas: They have been very supportive of this university, and now we can return that with the support of recognizing their interests and trying to support their interest through our interests.

Hubler: The research center will be lead by Dr. Steven Goodman, currently the director of the USA Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. He says the success of current treatments leads him to think a cure for the illness could be only ten years away.

Steven Goodman, M.D., future Director, University of Texas at Dallas Sickle Cell Disease Research Center: There has been good progress made on trying to get gene therapy going where one could replace the defective gene with a normal one. There's also animal models of sickle cell that have been created where one can test the necessary drug therapy.

Hubler: Dr. Goodman also believes the center will complement the work of UT Southwestern, which operates the Sickle Cell Clinic at Children's Medical Center. Dr. Zora Rogers explains how such a relationship would work.

Rogers: They dream an impossible dream, and we tell them what may be possible; then they say, "This is what we've got," and we see if our patients would be interested in it.

Hubler: The other advantage of a partnership between the two facilities would come in applying for grants from the National Institutes of Health. Both UTD and UT Southwestern are working on funding proposals for the next round that will be distributed in April of 2003. Dr. Goodman believes the chances of getting federal money are high, and estimates the research center's annual cost at $1.7 million. He adds the ultimate goal is to employ a staff of 80, consisting of physicians, researchers, and social workers. For KERA 90.1, I'm Kurt Hubler.