Federal researchers are hoping information from Soldiers at Fort Bragg will help them learn more about the link between the sickle cell trait and health issues following heavy exercise.
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is seeking volunteers for a study on the association between the trait and “exertion-related events.”
The research will look for genetic markers in people with the trait who experience those incidents.
Dr. Francis G. O’Connor, medical director of the university’s Consortium for Health and Military Performance, said the study will look at the differences between people with sickle cell trait who have issues when exercising and those who haven’t.
He said the research will try to determine if there are genetic markers among those who have a higher risk for having those problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with sickle cell trait should be careful while training. Some people with the trait have been shown to be more likely to experience heat stroke during intense exercise, such as military training, in unfavorable conditions, the center’s website says.
“Studies have shown that the chance of this problem can be reduced by avoiding dehydration and getting too hot during training,” the site says.
O’Connor said researchers are looking for people who have the trait and have had issues with exercise.
They also are looking for those who have the trait and have not had issues to serve as control subjects for the study, he said.
“Most people with sickle cell trait live perfectly benign lives,” O’Connor said. “Only a very, very small minority have problems.”
Anyone interested in participating can contact the university’s Human Performance Lab at (240) 479-9514 or SCTStudy-ggg@usuhs.edu.
The research could help provide better advice, guidance and education about the sickle cell trait, O’Connor said.
“I think it’s critical,” he said.
A 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that among black Soldiers, the sickle cell trait is not associated with a higher risk of death, but is associated with an increase in the risk of exertional rhabdomyolysis.
That condition, which is uncommon, causes pain, weakness and swelling in muscles, according to the National Institutes of Health.
O’Connor said information from the study could help military officials determine when a Soldier can return to duty.
If a Soldier with the sickle cell trait collapses during exercise, the issue might not be connected to the trait, he said.
“Maybe it’s just bad luck,” he said. “It might have been something else.”
O’Connor said the risk of collapse while exercising by those with the sickle cell trait is something of a mystery.
“We’re trying to bring some science to this mystery,” he said.