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Computer Models Figure Out Sickle Cell Crisis

By Brown University

July 2, 2013

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Brown University researchers have used computing models to show how different types of red blood cells interact to cause sickle cell crisis.

The models show that the rigid, crescent-shaped red blood cells associated with sickle cell disease do not cause the blockages on their own. Instead, softer, deformable red blood cells known as SS2 cells start the process by sticking to capillary walls.

The findings could provide a way to evaluate drug treatments aimed at easing or preventing sickle cell crisis.

"This is the first study to identify a specific biophysical mechanism through which vaso-occlusion takes place," says Brown professor George Karniadakis.

The computer models, based on experimentally derived data on real cells, enable the researchers to manipulate the cells' characteristics to see which ones cause blood blockages. "In the end, the rigid sickle cells are really playing a secondary role because the causality starts with the deformable cells that stick to the wall," Karniadakis says.

The researchers hope the models could be employed to assess drugs for treating sickle cell crisis. "If a drug is trying to target the cells' adhesive properties, or if it's trying to make cells more flexible, we can test them and see if they prevent occlusion in the model," Karniadakis notes.

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