Dr Samuel Charache, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, who led the study of 299 patients, yesterday warned patients that the drug hydroxyurea provided "a treatment not a cure". "But it is the first effective treatment for the disease."
Dr Elizabeth Anionwu, chair of the Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Association of Counsellors, last night welcomed the news of the trial findings. "This is heartening news for the families affected by this disease, and it shows the benefits of the co-ordinated national research programme they have in America."
Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited disease common among people of African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian descent. There are at least 6,000 sufferers in Britain.
The American National Institute of Health, which funded the study, warned yesterday that the drug should be offered only to adults who have severe sickle cell anaemia and suffer at least three serious crises a year. Hydroxyurea can suppress the bone marrow, so frequent checks are needed.