Gene therapy in sickle cell disease: Attitudes and informational needs of patients and caregivers


Background: Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder that results in serious morbidity and early mortality. Novel therapies for SCD, most notably genetic therapies (GTs) and HLA-mismatched donor hematopoietic cell transplantation, are in clinical trials. While potentially curative, these interventions are some of the most intensive treatments for SCD and are associated with serious and life-altering side effects, which may manifest several years after treatment. Little is known about knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes of individuals with SCD, or their caregivers, toward existing and these emerging therapies. Methods: Patients with SCD at least 13 years of age (n = 66) and caregivers (n = 38) were surveyed about knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs surrounding treatments for SCD. Results: Only 4.8% felt “extremely knowledgeable” about GT for SCD while the majority (63.4%) reported little knowledge. Overall, health literacy was low among respondents. Most respondents had a neutral attitude regarding the safety of GT for SCD, and whether it was a good treatment for the disorder (56.7% and 58.6%, respectively). Only a few respondents endorsed the idea that GT was “unsafe” or “not a good treatment” (5.8% and 4.8%, respectively). There was an association between increasing knowledge about GT and agreement that it is safe (p =.012) and a good treatment for SCD (p =.031). Conclusions: Given that very few patients with SCD feel knowledgeable about GT and a majority have neutral feelings about the safety and utility of this new approach, culturally appropriate patient-centered education is urgently needed as these treatments get regulatory approval and proceed to the clinic.

Publication Title

Pediatric Blood and Cancer