Researchers from Duke University Medical Center and the Medical College of Wisconsin have shown that removing a portion, instead of all, of the spleen, can successfully treat children with a variety of congenital anemias while preserving important splenic immune function.
In the largest study of its kind in the U.S., the researchers performed the surgery, known as a partial splenectomy, on 25 children with congenital forms of anemia caused by abnormal red blood cells. Typically, these children suffer from fatigue, jaundice and extreme vulnerability to infections that can require repeated hospital or physician visits. Many also need repeated blood transfusions.
The spleen has two main functions: it produces immune system cells that protect the body from infection, and it also serves to clear unwanted materials -- including defective blood cells -- from the bloodstream. The majority of the children in the current study had hereditary spherocytosis, a condition marked by misshapen and rigid red blood cells. Because of their shape and rigidity, the red blood cells become trapped and destroyed in the spleen, resulting in an enlarged spleen and a reduction in the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Richard Merritt | Duke University Medical Center
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