Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder of haemoglobin, which results in abnormal red blood cells. These can deform and cause blockages in blood vessels, leading to acute crises such as pain, stroke and splenic sequestration, and chronic organ and tissue damage. Recently research has begun to focus on therapies which prevent the red blood cells deforming by reducing the loss of water and ions from the cells. However, little is known about the effectiveness and safety of such drugs.
To assess the relative risks and benefits of drugs which aim to prevent sickle cell related crises by reducing red blood cell dehydration.
We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group specialist register which comprises references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches, handsearching relevant journals and handsearching abstract books of conference proceedings. Date of the most recent search of the Group's specialised register: December 2001.
All those randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials of drugs which aim to prevent sickle cell crises by reducing red cell dehydration, compared to placebo or an alternative treatment.
Both reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, assessed trial quality and extracted data from the included studies.
Of the 27 trials identified, two met the inclusion criteria. The two trials tested the effectiveness of zinc sulphate and piracetam to prevent sickle cell related crises in a total of 246 patients. A reduction in pain crises was shown in the piracetam study over one year (weighted mean difference (WMD) -1.9 (95% CI -3.01, -0.79)), although blood counts were not significantly changed. The zinc trial showed a significant reduction in the total number of pain, haemolytic, aplastic and sequestration crises over one and a half years (WMD -2.83 (95% CI -3.51, -2.15)), but our analysis was limited by non-reporting of standard deviations for some data. Changes to red cell parameters and blood counts were inconsistent. No serious adverse events were noted in either trial.
While the results of both zinc and piracetam for reducing sickle related crises are encouraging, larger, and/or longer term multicentre trials over a number of years are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these therapies for patients with sickle cell disease.