More than 100 years ago, sickle cell disease was discovered while two doctors examined Grenadian-born Walter Clement Noel. One of the world’s leading authorities on the disease, Dr. Kenneth R. Bridges, Founder and Director of the International Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation, delved into this disease, and its treatments, in his keynote address at the annual Keith B. Taylor Memorial/WINDREF Lecture on January 18 at St. George’s University’s Bourne Lecture Hall.
“Sickle cell disease is the world’s most common single gene disorder,” said Dr. Bridges in his address. “However, the disease is not simply a blood disorder but a systematic disorder that affects every part of the body. Tell me which area of the body you’re interested in studying and I will tell you what sickle cell disease does to it.”
Sickle cell disease is a disorder of the blood caused by an inherited abnormal hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein within the red blood cells) that causes distorted (sickled) red blood cells leading to tissue and organ damage and chronic pain.
The current treatment of sickle cell disease focuses on treating symptoms while the more challenging and expensive treatments like disease modification therapies remain underutilized, including a promising new drug treatment called GBT440, which causes the inhibition of polymerization of deoxygenated sickle cells.
“The GBT440 drug was specifically and carefully designed to fit into this one area of the body where it stops the abnormal hemoglobin cells from sticking together in the first place, which is at the very start of the problem,” explained Dr. Bridges. “Now with the help of our colleagues here in Grenada, we’re hoping to recapitulate this treatment in a much more profound way and to really deliver on the promise made to Walter Clement Noel 100-plus years ago in that we will now be able to effectively treat this disorder.”
Dr. Bridges received the MD degree from Harvard Medical School, and subsequently trained in internal medicine and hematology in Boston, at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals, respectively. Following medical subspecialty training, Dr. Bridges worked on the biology of cellular iron metabolism for three years at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. He later returned to Harvard as a member of the Hematology Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he reached the faculty rank of Associate Professor of Medicine. During this time, Dr. Bridges also maintained active clinical work and established the Joint Center for Sickle Cell and Thalassemic Disorders at the two aforementioned Boston-based institutions, emphasizing bench-to-patient translational research.
WINDREF and St. George’s University have long attracted world experts on climate change, health needs, and drug abuse and addictions, among other topics to its various lecture series. Past speakers have included Dr. Robert C. Gallo, best known for his role in the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); Dr. Ruth Macklin, a bioethics pioneer; and renowned cardiologist Dr. Valentin Fuster.
The annual Keith B. Taylor Memorial/WINDREF Lecture is named for SGU’s second Vice Chancellor, whose vision and dedication to the international growth of St. George’s University led to the creation of the Windward Island Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) in 1994; was instrumental in instituting the School of Arts and Sciences in 1996; and whose memory was honored with the creation of the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program and the establishment of Keith B. Taylor Hall on the True Blue campus in 2007.
By Ray-Donna Peters