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Science Explained: Hemophilia

14 May 2024 2:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Why some people’s blood may not run thicker than water.

Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay, public domain.

Imagine this: you are in your kitchen chopping vegetables for dinner. Suddenly, the knife slips and you cut your finger. You quickly reach for a band-aid, apply pressure for a few minutes and you're good to go. But for those with hemophilia, a simple cut can be a much bigger concern.

Hemophilia is a word that can be divided into two parts: “hemo” and "philia." Hemo refers to "blood,” and philia means “love of," so hemophilia translates to “love of blood." As the term suggests, people with hemophilia tend to bleed a lot and for longer periods than usual.

In 2022, Canada had 4,184 confirmed cases of hemophilia, with males being more affected than females. Beyond bleeding concerns, hemophilia significantly impacts one’s daily life. Bleeding, especially in joints, can lead to long-term damage, pain, and reduced mobility. People with hemophilia might need to limit certain activities to avoid injuries and bleeding, restricting their participation in sports, hobbies, and some workplaces.

Hemophilic patients bleed heavily because their bodies can’t form blood clots. Think of a blood clot as a natural bandage inside your body that forms to plug up the cut and prevent too much blood from coming out. To form a blood clot, the body uses clotting proteins. These proteins act like a team, quickly responding when you get a cut or injury. Together, they form a blood clot that seals the wound and stops the bleeding. Hemophilic patients lack those proteins, so they are unable to clot the blood as fast and stop the bleeding.

Hemophilia could be diagnosed using several tests, including tests that measure how long it takes for blood to clot. If someone's blood takes longer than expected to clot, they might have hemophilia.

When our body doesn’t have enough vitamins, doctors give us vitamin supplements. Similarly, individuals with hemophilia typically receive clotting proteins as prescribed treatment. This helps their blood clot better and reduce bleeding.

However, a challenge with this treatment is the immune system. The immune system is like your body's defense team. It works to protect you from germs, viruses, and other harmful invaders to keep you healthy. Sometimes, the immune system might mistake the clotting proteins for harmful intruders and try to fight against them. This can interfere with the effectiveness of the clotting proteins and prevent them from working properly.

To solve this, scientists tested an approach where they are slowly introducing the clotting proteins to the immune system so that it becomes familiar with them. This is called induction of immune tolerance. The goal is for the immune system to see the clotting proteins as harmless friends, not enemies. This way, when the clotting proteins enter the body, the immune system doesn't attack them. However, this method is costly and time-consuming.

Given these challenges, more research needs to be done to find a treatment that is cost-effective and time-efficient for hemophilic patients.

By Melak Ifrim

Melak is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in the Life Science Program (honors) within the Faculty of Science at McMaster University.


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