Gaucher's disease

Gaucher's disease gōshāz´ [key], rare genetic disease involving a deficiency of an enzyme, glucocerebrosidase, which normally breaks down certain body glycolipids (i.e., lipids (fats) that have a sugar molecule attached). There are three types of the disease. In all three types, the enzyme deficiency results in a buildup of the glycolipid glucocerebroside in the bone marrow, liver, and spleen, resulting in anemia and other blood disorders, bone pain and pathologic fractures, and enlarged liver and spleen. In Type II, the central nervous system is also affected. Patients are severely mentally retarded and have difficulty controlling their muscles. The disease progresses quickly from birth and usually is fatal by the age of two. In Type III disease, the course is chronic and central nervous system involvement begins later on. The symptoms are the same as those of Type II. Type I disease occurs most often in Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European origin, Type III in people of Swedish origin.

There is no cure for Gaucher's disease, but in 1991 an enzyme replacement drug, Ceridase, was approved and allowed people with Type I disease (the most common) to live nearly normal lives. Ceridase was extracted from human placental tissue in very small amounts and the supply was limited. In 1994, a genetically engineered version of the drug (Cerezyme) was introduced. Both were developed as orphan drugs and were controversial because of their costliness.

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