100th anniversary of the discovery of sickle cells

This year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication that first described the medical condition Sickle Cell Anaemia. James Herrick was a doctor in Chicago, USA, and wrote about his observations of a patient with severe anaemia. When blood samples were viewed under the microscope Herrick noted “peculiar elongated and sickle-shaped red blood corpuscles”.

The paper was first published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, November 1910 and has since been re-released by Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine in 2001 (Herrick 1910).

The patient had been brought up in the West Indies, and around the age of 17 started to experience palpitations and shortness of breath. Herrick conducted a thorough physical examination and records his observations in his 1910 paper. The diagnostic tests performed were basic by today’s standards. The urine was analysed and was found to not be at all abnormal. No traces of tuberculosis bacteria were found in the sputum, and other routine tests of that time such as stool examinations yielded no abnormal results.

When Herrick started to examine the blood, the first “peculiarities” started to appear. A blood sample was taken and a blood count performed, but the numbers of red and white blood cells were normal. When studying the blood cells by light microscopy, the first anomalies started to appear, and Herrick records beautifully in his paper the first ever appearance of Sickle Cell Anaemia.

Sickle Cell Herrick Paper

“The shape of the reds was very irregular, but what especially attracted attention was the large number of thin, elongated, sickle shaped and crescent-shaped forms”. (Herrick 1910).

Herrick conducted a nice experiment and compared the patient blood to a control sample of healthy blood, showing that the sickle shapes were artefacts of the preparation. His final verdict on the diagnosis remained open, and Herrick urged the medical community to remain vigilant for similar cases. One hundred years on, our knowledge of Sickle Cell Anaemia is greatly advanced and we are all familiar of the images of the sickle shaped cells.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary

To celebrate the 100th anniversary this website http://www.sicklecellanaemia.org has been established by De Montfort University to provide a centre for educational resources on the subjects of Sickle Cell Anaemia and Thalassemia.

The project called SCOOTER “Sickle Cell Open- Online Topics and Educational Resources” is funded by the UK HEFCE and managed by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) as part of their Open Educational Resource initiative.

 

Reference

Herrick J B (1910). Peculiar elongated and sickle-shaped red blood corpuscles in a case of severe anemia. Republished in 2001. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, volume 74, pages 179-184. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2588723/pdf/yjbm00012-0035.pdf.

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