A study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, Harvard University, MIT , Florida Atlantic University, and the University of Korea reports on a discovery that may help physicians treat those who suffer from sickle cell disease. While people of any race can have the sickle-cell trait, the disease is far more common among African Americans than it is among Whites. About one in every 400 African Americans is born with the sickle-cell trait.
Sickle cell disease affects about 100,000 people in the United States. The disease, inherited from both parents, causes some of the patient’s red blood cells, normally shaped like a saucer, to take on a crescent or sickle shape. These malformed cells are less effective at their primary job, conveying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The cells also clump together, blocking circulation and leading to organ damage, strokes and episodes of intense pain, called vaso-occlusive crises.
Subra Sureh, president of Carnegie Mellon University and a co-author of the study, says that “there is a critical need for patient-specific biomarkers that can be used to assess the effectiveness of treatments for sickle cell disease. This study shows how techniques commonly used in engineering and physics can help us to better understand how the red blood cells in people with sickle cell disease react to treatment, which could lead to improved diagnostics and therapies.”
The study, “Cellular Normoxic Biophysical Markers of Hydroxyurea Treatment in Sickle Cell Disease,” was published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.