Home Local News Meharry Sickle Cell Center celebrates 50 years of service to sickle cell disease community

Meharry Sickle Cell Center celebrates 50 years of service to sickle cell disease community

Meharry’s Sickle Cell Center one of longest standing programs at Meharry Medical College and one of oldest Sickle Cell Centers in U.S.

by PRIDE Newsdesk
Dr. Maria del Pilar Aguinaga

For 50 years, the Meharry Sickle Cell Center (MSCC) has diagnosed individuals with hemoglobinopathies and connected them to treatment—working in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH), which performs universal newborn screening for treatable inherited conditions not clinically evident in the newborns, including sickle cell disease. The MSCC houses the Hemoglobinopathy Confirmatory and Reference Laboratory for the TDOH Newborn Screening Program. Thus, babies who have rendered a positive hemoglobinopathy screen result in our state are referred to the MSCC Laboratory for final confirmatory diagnosis.

Babies born in Middle Tennessee that have been confirmed as having sickle cell disease are referred to the MSCC for follow-up, family education, counseling and referral to a tertiary center, where the patient receives hematology specialty care. Free hemoglobinopathy testing is also offered to all family members and the community. Babies born outside of the Middle Tennessee region and confirmed by the MSCC are connected to their respective TDOH-designated regional genetic centers for proper follow-up.

“The Meharry Sickle Cell Center has been an integral part of the Middle Tennessee community for 50 years, and we strive to provide health care to individuals affected with sickle cell from birth to adulthood, thus involving moms, babies, affected adults, families, caregivers and health care providers,” said Dr. Maria del Pilar Aguinaga, director of the Meharry Sickle Cell Center. “One out of every 365 African American births is diagnosed with sickle cell disease in the US. It is estimated that 100,000 people are affected by this disorder in the country and about 10% of these individuals are of Hispanic ethnicity. Currently, one in 13 African Americans carry the sickle cell trait. It is important to get tested and understand what carrying the trait means for family planning. We encourage people who want to know more about the disease or get tested to know their sickle cell trait status to schedule a free appointment at the MSCC.”

Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president/CEO of Meharry Medical College, said he believes Meharry’s work on sickle cell is critical. “This is a disease that acutely impacts the Black population. Before the MSCC was officially established in 1972, Meharry had been a place of hope and understanding for those living with sickle cell disease, and I am honored to see the MSCC celebrate 50 years of addressing a disease which has not always received the funding it deserves.”

MSCC services include hemoglobinopathy testing, genetic counseling and education about sickle cell and other blood disorders to the community and health care providers. The Adult Sickle Cell Clinic, housed at Nashville General Hospital, provides specialty care to adults with sickle cell or other hemoglobin disorders.

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