Research updates
7 - The sickling disease page 4
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3. Diagnosis and prevention Link to the Medical Research Council web site
Parental screening
Prevention of sickle cell anaemia in a community depends on the screening of individuals perceived to be at risk for the presence of the mutant allele, coupled with genetic counselling and education. Couples need to be aware of their chance of having a child with sickle cell anaemia, and of the suffering such a child may have to endure. Only then can they make an informed decision about having a family.

Figure 4. Professor Alastair Bellingham at King's College Hospital, London.
Pregnant women may also be screened and, in cases in which they and their partner are both carriers, prenatal diagnosis can be offered, along with the choice of terminating an affected pregnancy. Clearly, the termination of a pregnancy is a highly emotive issue and not an easy decision to make.
Currently, in Britain, three units carry out prenatal diagnosis of sickle cell anaemia. MRC scientist, Professor Alastair Bellingham, and his team at King's College Hospital, London cater for a community with a high (22%) Afro-Caribbean population. Their screening programme is working effectively, particularly as local GPs are well informed about sickle cell anaemia, and supportive counselling and health care are available.
Professor Bellingham's unit also screens newborn babies for sickle cell anaemia (neonatal testing). All babies born in the UK have their heel pricked and a blood sample taken and screened for two genetic diseases. The same blood sample is used for neonatal screening for sickle cell anaemia and at this unit, because of the high Afro-Caribbean population, all babies, irrespective of ethnic group, are tested.
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