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Sickle Cell Disease Research

The UT Health Science Center College of Nursing has a strong commitment to research and education related to Sickle Cell Disease – an inherited illness that affects 100,000 people nationwide. 

People of African descent make up 90% of the population with Sickle Cell Disease in the U.S. It also affects people of Hispanic, South Asian, Southern European, and Middle Eastern ancestry. The illness affects about 2,000 people in the Mid-South. In recent years, the college has developed an Area of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease (SCD).


Advancing Sickle Cell Expertise in Nursing

woman teaching

In 2022, the college partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the International Association of Sickle Cell Nurses and Professional Associates to initiate a Sickle Cell Boot Camp to Promote Nursing Excellence. This effort was funded with a $50,000 grant from Global Blood Therapeutics (GBT) Inc., a biopharmaceutical company that develops and delivers treatments for SCD. The SCD Nursing Boot Camp was the first national intensive nursing program of its kind. The program allowed nurses to gain theoretical and clinical expertise in the care of persons with SCD.

In 2023, the boot camp curriculum was expanded to a train-the-trainer model, and two SCD Nursing Boot Camps were held, thanks to an additional $100,000 grant from GBT. To date, 77 nurses have completed the boot camp, representing 27 states and six countries. Two boot camps are scheduled for 2024.

The college is expanding its commitment to improving the quality of care for persons with SCD supported by a $364,502 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) The grant, titled “Eliminating Health Disparities for Persons with Sickle Cell Disease Residing in the Delta: An Education and Awareness Program for Health Care Providers,” includes three major objectives:

  • Providing a primary care provider conference on comprehensive SCD management.
  • Providing workshops on emergency management of SCD complications for Baptist Hospitals in the Delta that serve patients from persistent poverty counties.
  • Providing the SCD Boot Camp to Promote Nursing Excellence.

All objectives are designed to help eliminate health disparities and improve the quality of care for persons with SCD. Researchers expect that more than 240 providers will receive specialized SCD education and training. The principal investigator for the grant is Sara Day, PhD, RN, FAAN, assistant dean for Community and Global Partnerships at the College of Nursing. Co-investigators are Yvonne M. Carroll, RN, JD, director of patient services in the Department of Hematology at St. Jude; Assistant Professor Keesha Powell-Roach, PhD, RN, at the College of Nursing; and Brooke Clemons, MSN, RN, a PhD student in Nursing Science at UT Health Science Center.

Pain Research in Sickle Cell Disease

woman at microscope

Dr. Keesha Powell-Roach's research advances the understanding of SCD pain by integrating genomic, proteomic, psychological, and environmental factors to unravel the complexity of SCD pain mechanisms in individuals living with the disease. Her research was among the first to characterize quantitative sensory testing (QST) reference values for healthy, pain-free Black adults in a large sample size. Using the same protocol and methods, the results were controlled for patients living with SCD. This work provided QST reference values with an expanded age range and showed that Black people were sensitive to heat and cold; they detected pain sooner than other groups. These results debunked the myth that Black people can tolerate higher levels of pain. Her studies extend beyond understanding pain itself, delving into its impact on organ systems and overall quality of life for affected patients. Her laboratory investigates the interaction between omics and biopsychosocial factors contributing to pain phenotypes in adults, notably with SCD.

Dr. Powell-Roach is also a primary investigator on a K01 training grant, "Contributions of Biopsychosocial Factors in Sickle Cell Disease Pain" from the National Heart Lung and Blood institute of $537,367. In addition, she is a primary investigator on a small research project through the Programs to Increase Diversity Among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research - Functional and Translational Genomics of Blood Disorders (PRIDE - FTG Program/NHLBI). Her research has been funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, National Institute on Aging, and National Human Genetics Institute.

Mar 25, 2024