Between black and miscegenated population groups: sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait in Brazil in the 1930s and 1940s

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2011-11-12 05:34Z by Steven

Between black and miscegenated population groups: sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait in Brazil in the 1930s and 1940s

Hist√≥ria, Ci√™ncias, Sa√ļde-Manguinhos
Volume 18, Number 2 (April/June 2011)
29 pages
DOI: 10.1590/S0104-59702011000200007

Juliana Manzoni Cavalcanti, PhD candidate
Graduate Program on History of the Sciences and Health
Casa de Oswaldo Cruz/Fundação Oswaldo Cruz

Marcos Chor Maio, Senior Researcher and Professor
Graduate Program on History of the Sciences and Health
Fiocruz ‚Äď Casa de Oswaldo Cruz

Translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty

The article examines medical and scientific studies of sickle cell anemia published in Brazil in the 1930s and 1940s, when the vast majority of physicians and scientists believed that miscegenation played a significant role in the epidemiology of the disease in the country. Special focus is placed on hematologist Ernani Martins da Silva, of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, who conducted blood analyses around the interior of Brazil with the purpose of classifying miscegenated and allegedly pure population groups based on the presence of sickle cells and the racial distribution of blood groups. The article explores the ambivalences stemming from associations between sickle cell anemia and the ‘black race’ during this period.

The term sickle cell disease (SCD) is applied to disorders caused by a specific change in the hemoglobin molecule, an oxygen-carrying molecule that is one of the most abundant within red blood cells. Genetic alteration causes one amino acid to be replaced with another in the protein chains that make up hemoglobin (with √ü6 glutamic acid replaced by valine ‚Äď Hb S), thereby altering the molecule‚Äôs structure. This change lowers the affinity between the oxygen molecule and hemoglobin, prompting the formation of long hemoglobin chains that clump into intracellular bundles concentrated at the ends of the red blood cell and thus distort the cell into the crescent shape from which it gains its name (Andreoli et al., 1997, p.371)…

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