Waking Up Genes

A flavor enhancer may provide the first treatment for sickle-cell anemia

OCCASIONALLY, GREATNESS EMERGES FROM THE commonplace. Scientists have found that an ordinary food additive may help people who suffer from sickle-cell anemia, the inherited illness that afflicts up to 100,000 black Americans. A preliminary study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that butyrate, a widely used flavor enhancer, can overcome the basic cause of the disease. A genetic flaw leads the body to make abnormal hemoglobin, the blood protein that carries essential oxygen.

Six patients with either sickle-cell anemia or thalassemia, a related blood disorder, showed dramatic improvement after receiving butyrate injections for two to three weeks. Apparently the...

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