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The Chemistry of Cooley's Anemia

Co Authors:

Christopher T.  Bailey
Division of Natural and Mathematical Sciences
Wells College

Mohammad Mahroof-Tahir
Department of Chemistry
St. Cloud State University


Young parents, Max and Andrea Forest, learn that their child is suffering from the genetic disorder, thalassemia. Treatment requires a lifetime commitment to whole blood transfusion and chelation therapy, both of which must be administered on a daily to weekly basis. Students read the case, answer a series of questions, and then decide how they would treat the child if they were the parents. The case was developed to introduce students to the role of metal ions and coordination chemistry in biological systems. It would be appropriate for use in courses in biochemistry, molecular biology, bioinorganic chemistry, and bioethics, among others.

  • Understand and discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of the genetic disorder thalassemia.
  • Understand and discuss the role of iron in the body.
  • Understand and discuss the use of chelating agents in the treatment of iron overload.
Keywords: Cooley's anemia; thalassemia; genetic disorder; genetic disease; hemoglobin; iron transport and storage in the body; iron overload; chelation therapy; deferoxamine; Desferal; metal ions; coordination chemistry; bioethics
Topical Area: Ethics
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Dilemma/Decision
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biochemistry   Inorganic Chemistry   Molecular Biology  
Date Posted: 03/28/03
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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I adapted the case study, “The Chemistry of Cooley’s Anemia,” for my Basic Biochemistry course consisting of juniors and seniors. The students, in groups of 3–6, were given bits of information allowing them to solve for the disease and related questions using the internet and their biochemistry book. The class reconvened the last 15 minutes of class and chatted about the ethical issues pertinent to the case. I also introduced the concept of collaborative efforts in science as a precursor to drug discovery. It was a hit! I plan on using three additional case studies throughout the semester.

Jody M. Modarelli
Departments of Biology and Chemistry
Hiram College
Hiram, OH

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