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Measuring blood flow to monitor sickle cell disease
Date:2/29/2012

(Cambridge, Mass.) -- More than 60 years ago, scientists discovered the underlying cause of sickle cell disease: People with the disorder produce crescent-shaped red blood cells that clog capillaries instead of flowing smoothly, like ordinary, disc-shaped red blood cells do. This can cause severe pain, major organ damage and a significantly shortened lifespan.

Researchers later found that the disease results from a single mutation in the hemoglobin protein, and realized that the sickle shape seen more often in people from tropical climates is actually an evolutionary adaptation that can help protect against malaria.

However, despite everything scientists have learned about the disease, which affects 13 million people worldwide, there are few treatments available. "We still don't have effective enough therapies and we don't have a good feel for how the disease manifests itself differently in different people," says Sangeeta Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

Bhatia, MIT postdoc David Wood, and colleagues at Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women's Hospital have now devised a simple blood test that can predict whether sickle cell patients are at high risk for painful complications of the disease. To perform the test, the researchers measure how well blood samples flow through a microfluidic device.

The device, described March 1 in the journal Science Translational Medicine, could help doctors monitor sickle cell patients and determine the best course of treatment, Bhatia says. It could also aid researchers in developing new drugs for the disease.

Monitoring blood flow

Sickle cell patients often suffer from anemia because their abnormal red blood cells don't last very long in circulation. However, most of the symptoms associated with the disease are caused
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Contact: Kimberly Allen
allenkc@mit.edu
617-253-2702
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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