Did You Know That The First Written Description of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) Was by James B Herrick (1861-1954)?

By Shaun Richard McCann

The first written description of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) was by James B Herrick (1861-1954), of Chicago, in May 1910. The full report was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Herrick had seen a student from Granada in 1904 who was anaemic and had ‘elongated and sickle-shaped red cells’. Herrick suggested: ‘that some changes in the composition of the corpuscle itself may be the determining factor’. A prescient observation. The patient was seen on several occasions by Herrick and Dr E. E. Irons and these cumulative observations formed the basis of the report in 1910. The Association of American Physicians awarded Herrick the Kober Medal in 1930.       

In 1911 Dr R.E. Washburn, at the University of Virginia, saw a patient with anaemia, leg ulcers and gall stones. Washbourne realised that his patient was similar to Herrick’s and he published the second case of SCD in 1911 in the Virginia Medical Semi-monthly.

The genetics of SCD, the phenotypes and genotypes are well documented now and hopefully an inexpensive and effective treatment will soon be available to all patients.

Read more:

1. Savitt TL and Goldberg MF. Herrick’s 1910 Case Report of Sickle Cell Anemia. The Rest of the Story. JAMA. 1989;261(2):266-271.

2. Wintrobe M.M. Blood Pure and Eloquent. McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1980.