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UF Researchers Get Sickle Cell Therapy Grant

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
U.S. National Library of Medicine
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Researchers at the University of Florida College of Nursing have been awarded a $2.6 million grant to determine whether relaxation therapy can help reduce pain and manage stress for patients with sickle cell disease, negating the need for opioids.

The National Institute of Nursing Research awarded the grant to Miriam O. Ezenwa, an associate professor in the college of nursing. Ezenwa and other researchers will use video clips of cloud-like formations and soothing audio that instructs the participants to concentrate on deep breathing to reduce stress.

Stress releases certain hormones that can intensify pain response. Conversely, relaxation exercises can release endorphins that reduce inflammation and pain from sickle cell disease, a rare and painful blood disorder that mainly appears in the Black population.

“Historical and contemporary prejudices and stereotypes are associated with those who suffer from sickle cell disease because of their racial background,” Ezenwa said in a prepared statement. “Stress from sickle cell disease symptoms and social factors have been magnified by the public health crisis related to the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States.”

Studies indicate as many as 100,000 people could be living with sickle cell disease in the United States. According to a June 2019 report from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of Minority Health, 55,349 Medicaid beneficiaries nationwide had sickle cell disease in 2012, the latest available data.

With 5,395 Medicaid beneficiaries with the once-fatal disease, Florida had the second largest sickle-cell Medicaid population behind New York.