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Close to Home: A Mother's Dream for Sickle Cell Research Comes True

Tolulope Rosanwo is a 2015 ASH® Minority Medical Student Award Program (MMSAP) participant whose research project focused on sickle cell disease (SCD). She presented her research at the 2015 ASH® Annual Meeting which she attended with her mother, Dr. Matilda Rosanwo. Tolulope has two siblings with SCD. It is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States.

Matilda: Seeing young students like my daughter present their summer research projects at the 2015 ASH Annual Meeting, many of the projects focused on improved health outcomes for those with sickle cell disease, brought such joy to my heart. This is something I’ve longed to see since I was a medical student 32 years ago. I remember I jotted in my diary then that I wanted to do genetic research looking into the cure for SCD. This was even before I had a child of my own with this condition.

Tolulope: As a child, I always wondered what made my siblings get sick, why it happened to them and not to me, and what could make them better. These basic pathophysiological questions became the foundation for my interest in medicine and research.

The MMSAP, which is funded by the ASH Foundation, gave me an opportunity to receive needed financial and social support to work with Dr. Jane Little1 and Dr. Umut Gurkan2. Their work focuses on the use of cost-effective and novel biomedical devices in the surveillance and detection of SCD. For my research project, I sought to find a correlation between red cell adhesion and pain crisis in patients with SCD. This was an ideal project for me because, as a child, I remember never knowing when my siblings might get sick. A sickle cell crisis can often be sudden and unexpected, and a lot of the time you experience helplessness because you don’t know if cold weather, a stressful event, or even a meal might cause a problem. The unpredictability of a crisis is almost mystical; and I am determined to find answers for my siblings and other patients with SCD.

Drs. Little and Gurkan have often said that the vision of our work is to make adhesion testing in SCD as clinically meaningful as glucose testing is in diabetes. The work they are doing, and that I am able to participate in, can contribute to better monitoring of disease status, improved clinical care, and the ability to assess the efficacy of anti-adhesion medications at the clinical trial stage.

Matilda: I have confidence that the hard work of these students, with the help of organizations like ASH and its foundation, will bring about total abolishment of sickle cell disease in this world and, at least, better management of this condition.

1Dr. Jane Little, associate professor and Director of the Adult Sickle Cell program at CWRU

2Dr. Umut Gurkan, assistant professor at CWRU and leader of the Case Biomanufacturing and Microfabrication Laboratory