The death of the rap artist Prodigy (Albert Johnson, half of the duo Mobb Deep) at only 42 this week, after a lifetime of suffering from sickle cell disease, was a reminder of the devastating cost of the sometimes fatal genetic disorder — and of the failure to cure it.
It has been 61 years since the discovery of the mutation responsible for sickle cell, which affects about 100,000 people in the U.S., and 30 years since scientists found a compensatory mutation — one that keeps people from developing sickle cell despite inheriting the mutant genes. Last year, when STAT examined the lack of progress, scientists and hospital officials were frank about one reason for it: Other genetic disorders, notably cystic fibrosis, attracted piles of money that led to cures, but sickle cell strikes the “wrong” kind of people, including African-Americans, and so has historically been starved for funds.
The genetic mutation that causes sickle cell allows red blood cells to cramp up in a way that impedes their flow through blood vessels. Those who have the condition can suffer anemia, infections, fatal organ failure, tissue damage, strokes, and intense pain.