Krabbe disease (also known as globoid cell leukodystrophy or galactosylceramide lipidosis) is a rare, often fatal degenerative disorder that affects the myelin sheath of the nervous system.
Infants with Krabbe disease are normal at birth. Symptoms begin between the ages of 3 and 6 months with irritability, fevers, limb stiffness, seizures, feeding difficulties, vomiting, and slowing of mental and motor development. In the first stages of the disease, doctors often mistake the symptoms for those of cerebral palsy. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, spasticity, deafness, optic atrophy, optic nerve enlargement, blindness, paralysis, and difficulty when swallowing. Prolonged weight loss may also occur. There are also juvenile- and adult-onset cases of Krabbe disease, which have similar symptoms but slower progression.
In infants, the disease is generally fatal before age 2. Patients with late-onset Krabbe disease tend to have a slower progression of the disease and live significantly longer.
Although there is no cure for Krabbe disease, bone marrow transplantation has been shown to benefit cases early in the course of the disease. Generally, treatment for the disorder is symptomatic and supportive. Physical therapy may help maintain or increase muscle tone and circulation. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that cord blood transplants have been successful in stopping the disease as long as they are given before overt symptoms appear.
From Hunter's Hope, a foundation started in memory of Hunter, the infant son of Jim and Jill Kelly, who was diagnosed with Krabbe Disease:
Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy, more commonly known as Krabbe (crab ā) Disease, is an inherited neurodegenerative lysosomal enzyme disorder affecting the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Children who inherit the disorder lack an important enzyme (GALC) that is needed for the production of normal myelin (white matter) in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Myelin is the protective covering of the nerve cells and acts like insulation surrounding an electric wire.
When the enzyme GALC is deficient, it produces toxic substances in the brain, causing myelin loss, change to brain cells, and neurological damage.
The "cheat sheet" about Krabbe Disease from the National Library of Medicine is here.
Rare Disease Day is February 28, 2013.