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Page 2-Wednesday, April 11, 1979-The Michigan Daily
SICKLE CELL RESEARCHED
'Upro. studies early etection
Department of French
Johns Hopkins University
Wednesday, April 11-4:10 p.m.
L Boetie s Montaigne
Te Program in Comparative Literature
By TOM MIRGA
Sickle cell anemia is a devastating
genetic disease afflicting ap-
proximately one out of every 600 blacks
in America. It impairs their vigor,-and
deals them four-to-five day episodes of
severe pain two to three times every
year. The disease often leads to an
early death for many sufferers.,There
is no known cure.
Donald Rucknagel, University
professor of Human Genetics and In-
ternal Medicine, is currently involved
in a research project with a dual goal -
the development of methods to
diagnose the disease in fetuses, and
halting it from developing in children
whose genetic makeup would otherwise
insure a life of hardship.
RUCKNAGEL, who has been in-
volved in hemoglobin research for 25
years, makes no claims of impending
success. "Whether we will be able to do
anything after we come to understand
the problem is a difficult thing to an-
swer," he said. "We may not have an
answer, but bear in mind that we
presently know a lot about sickle cell,
and there has been no payoff in the way
of a cure."
Rucknagel said people who have the
disease have two sickle cell genes in
their hemoglobin. About eight per cent
of all blacks carry a single defective
gene, known as sickle cell trait. Many
geneticists consider this condition a
disease in itself, but Rucknagel
"These people lead a normal life with
only a few problems related to the
trait," he said. These problems include
a painful enlargement of the spleen
when flying in an unpressurized air-
plane cabin at altitudes-over 10,000 feet,
and occasional instances of bloody
CURRENTLY, doctors can offer
sickle cell patients only limited
remedies, including analgesics for
pain, antibiotics for infection, correc-
tion of fluid imbalances, and blood
transfusions. Rucknagel called these
answers "responses to symptoms, ef-
ficient but expensive. By no means are
they a definitive treatment."
Rucknagel said it is currently
possible to determine whether a fetus
will have sickle cell anemia by
analyzing a sample of fluid drawn from
the placenta of a pregnant woman
through a process called amniocentjsis.
While the process is not new, it is o in
the last year that scientists, have
developed a method of detecting the
disease without actually having a sam-
ple of the fetus' blood.
"The fluid contains the fetus' skin
cells," he explained. "We can take
those cells and extract the DNA from
them, break the DNA up into small
pieces, and determine which pieces
contain the hemoglobin genes."
PIECES OF the DNA strand that con-
tain sickle cell genes are larger than
normal ones, Rucknagel continued.
"We can use that to determine if the
fetus has either sickle cell anemia or
sickle cell traits. This will greatly sim-
plify the diagnosis of the disease."
Rucknagel said this would give
parents who both exhibit sickle cell
traits the opportunity to decide if they
wish to abort the fetus, and make fur-
ther reproductive choices.
The attempt to find ways of blocking
the disease from developing in children
rests on the difference between fetal
and normal. adult hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is the part of the blood
which carries oxygen to the cells.
RUCKNAGEL pointed out that fetal
hemoglobin is different from that of
adults. Hemoglobin is the part of the
blood which carries oxygen to the cells.
Fetal hemoglobin contains protein
chains that are not affected by the
defective sickle cell genes, allowing
them to function normally.
"If a child is destined to become an
adult with sickle cell anemia," he said,
"by the time he is nine months old,
most of his blood contains adult sickle
cell hemoglobins." Rucknagel's efforts
are focused on determining what
"switch" starts that process in motion,
and if that switch can be controlled.
"If the child can continue to produce
fetal hemoglobins throughout his life,
he will not get the disease," he said.
While most sickle cell patients are
handicapped throughout their lives and
encounter difficulties in holding jobs
and having successful, scholastic
careers, Rucknagel said that he has
known many people who have over-
come the disability, including doctors
"Having sickle cell anemia," he said,
"is not to say success in life cannot be
(Continued from Page 1)
have that much support. But ROTC
people are talking with faculty mem-
bers in various departments to argue
their case, and we're attempting to see
just what kind of support we do have."
IN OTHER action, the Curriculum
Committee discussed the 'status of
Project Outreach and' the Executive
Committee's decision two weeks agoto
force the Psychology department to
make major revisions in the program.
Some committee members were con-
fused about the Curriculum Commit-
tee's recommendations to the
Executive Committee, and expressed
concern in regard to the actions which
They said they thought the decisions
made in the Curriculum Committee
concerning credit limitations for ex-
periential courses included Outreach,
and that the Executive Committee may
have misinterpreted those decisions.
Associate LSA Dean and Curriculum
Committee Chairman John Knott said
he was surprised that some members
were confused, but said he was certain
the Executive Committee was not
misinformed in any way.
A security guard patrolling Univer-
sity buldings in the 500 block of East
University was knocked out and robbed
by a person or persons he never saw
early Monday morning, police repor-
Lt. William Hoover of the Ann Arbor
Police Department said that the 25-
year-old Ann Arbor resident was
making his rounds on East University
shortly after midnight when he was
struck on the back of the head and
THE GUARD told police that he
remained unconscious for 10 to 15
minutes. When he came to, he said, his
pockets were turned inside out and he
was missing a $10 bill.
The guard was taken to University
Hospital for treatment but was released
immediately. Police have no suspects
in the assault.
THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Volume LXXXIX, No. 153
Wednesday, April 11, 1979
is edited and managed by students at
the University of Michigan. Published
daily Tuesday thronALh iSundavnmn-