Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston: Sickle Cell Heroine

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For thousands of years, Sickle Cell Disease has plagued populations, causing anemia, pain, strokes, and death. Through the 60s and 70s, the nature of the disease was becoming clearer, but it was Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston that revolutionized the treatment of this formidable disorder. She became interested in the condition while doing her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1964. In 1986, Dr. Gaston published the results of a groundbreaking national study that proved the effectiveness of giving SCD children long-term penicillin treatment to prevent septic infections. Her study showed that babies should be screened for SCD at birth so that preventive penicillin could be given right away. Early detection and preventative penicillin treatment are integral to avoiding many of the severe complications of SCD, and the study resulted in legislation to fund screening programs across the nation. Within a year, forty states had established screening programs, and today in the U.S. every baby is screened at birth. Dr. Gaston’s work has helped to save and improve the quality of life for countless people over the decades, and we are eternally grateful for her contributions to science and medicine.

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