Hydroxyurea and erythropoietin therapy in sickle cell anemia

Mark A. Goldberg, Carlo Brugnara, George J. Dover, Lidia Schapira, Linda Lacroix, H. Franklin Bunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hydroxyurea has been shown to increase fetal hemoglobin (Hb F) production in patients with sickle cell disease and therefore has the potential to alleviate both the hemolytic and vaso-occlusive manifestations of the disease. Preliminary evidence indicates that recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEpo) may also induce Hb F. Three sickle cell anemia patients were treated with escalating doses of intravenous rhEpo and, subsequently, with daily oral hydroxyurea. After the optimal hydroxyurea dose was attained, rhEpo was added again. Two additional patients were treated with hydroxyurea alone. Treatment with rhEpo, either alone or in combination with hydroxyurea, had no significant effect on the percentage of F reticulocytes or F cells. In contrast, hydroxyurea treatment was associated with a 1.5-fold to sevenfold increase in F cells and a 2.3- to 27-fold increase in the percentage of Hb F. In the three patients whose response reached a plateau, hydroxyurea treatment was associated with lessened hemolysis, decreased serum bilirubin and lactate dehydrogenase levels, and prolonged 51chromium-labeled RBC survival. Hydroxyurea treatment also resulted in decreased numbers of irreversibly sickled cells and in decreased sickling at partial oxygen saturation, increased oxygen affinity, increased total RBC cation content, and diminished potassium:chloride co-transport. All five patients treated with hydroxyurea experienced a decrease in severity and frequency of painful sickle crises. This study confirms that hydroxyurea therapy increases Hb F production and provides objective evidence of a significant reduction in hemolytic rate and intracellular polymerization. In contrast, rhEpo, either alone or in combination with hydroxyurea, offered no measurable benefit. Based on these encouraging preliminary data, large-scale, controlled clinical trials are warranted to study the safety and efficacy of hydroxyurea in the treatment of sickle cell disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-83
Number of pages10
JournalSeminars in oncology
Issue number3 SUPPL. 9
StatePublished - Jun 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology

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