Hydroxyurea for sickle cell anemia: what have we learned and what questions still remain?

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Purpose of reviewSickle cell anemia (SCA) is a well characterized severe hematological disorder with substantial morbidity and early mortality. Hydroxyurea is a potent inducer of fetal hemoglobin, and evidence over the past 25 years has documented its laboratory and clinical efficacy for both adults and children with SCA.Recent findingsThe phase III study of hydroxyurea in infants (BABY HUG) has just been completed and preliminary results indicate equivocal benefits for organ protection during the 2-year treatment period, but significant benefits for pain, acute chest syndrome, hospitalizations, and transfusions. Three new reports document the benefits of hydroxyurea on reducing mortality in SCA: two adult trials (LaSHS and MSH) and one pediatric study (Brazilian cohort). Recent results from the HUSTLE protocol suggest minimal genotoxicity or carcinogenicity with long-term hydroxyurea exposure.SummaryThe potential utility of hydroxyurea for all patients with SCA is clear and indisputable. With decades of accumulated evidence and documented efficacy with an acceptable long-term safety profile, it is time to consider hydroxyurea treatment the standard of care for all young patients with SCA. Exporting our knowledge and experience with hydroxyurea to developing nations with large medical burdens from SCA can help relieve global suffering from this condition.

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