Robert Nickel Earns the Early Career Medical Research Award


Dr. Robert (Shep) Nickel has been honored by the Thrasher Research Fund ( with an Early Career Award.  Dr. Nickel, a hematologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC and a founding member of the Sickle Transplant Alliance for Research (STAR) received the award for a project entitled "The significance of HLA antibodies in children undergoing transplant to Cure Sickle Cell Disease".  His pilot study, conducted through STAR’s national network of children’s hospitals, has the potential to improve the use of platelet transfusions in children receiving bone marrow transplants (BMT) for sickle cell disease.

The chemotherapy given in advance of transplantation makes it possible for the donor’s marrow cells to take or engraft, a process which is critical to curing sickle cell disease. However, the chemotherapy also limits the body’s capacity to form platelets, clot forming blood cells.  To prevent bleeding, patients require frequent platelet transfusions for several weeks following the transplant until their donor marrow is able to make platelets. The number of transfusions needed varies greatly from patient to patient. Dr. Nickel’s research will examine the role of HLA antibodies that might destroy transfused platelets and thus increase the number of transfusions needed. This study builds on earlier research conducted by Dr. Nickel showing that red blood cell transfusions used to manage many of the complications of sickle cell disease are associated with the formation of these HLA antibodies.

The Thrasher Early Career Award is highly competitive. In 2014, they received more than 140 concept papers, invited 40 full applications, and only 15 awards were given. This award is both a recognition of Dr. Nickel as a promising medical investigator and it also recognizes the value of STAR as a national network of extraordinary researchers who are deeply committed to working together to further the cure of sickle cell disease.

To learn about the progress of Dr. Nickel’s research and other research to improve the only cure for sickle cell disease, sign up for updates here.