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Mathematical model of the life cycle of red blood cells may predict risk of anemia
Date:11/12/2010

A collaboration between a physician-researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and a mathematician from Harvard University has led to development of a mathematical model reflecting how red blood cells change in size and hemoglobin content during their four-month lifespan. In their report published online in PNAS Early Edition, John Higgins, MD, MGH Center for Systems Biology and Department of Pathology, and L. Mahadevan, PhD, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), also describe how their model may be used to provide valuable clinical information.

"This study describes a promising way to predict who is likely to become anemic before they actually do, and it is based on tests routinely performed in hospitals," says Higgins. "More generally, we found that a type of mathematical analysis commonly used in physics can be applied to clinical data and uncover new details of human physiology which can help improve diagnosis."

Mahadevan adds, "We show that it is possible to use minimal models to compress the information available in existing clinical data into a few parameters, which can then serve as a quantitative basis for comparing characteristics across the entire population." He is also a member of the Harvard University Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

In healthy adults, around 250 billion oxygen-carrying red blood cells (RBCs) are released from the bone marrow each day, and a similar number are cleared from the bloodstream. While a good deal is known about how these cells initially develop from blood-system stem cells, much less is known about how RBCs mature and are eventually destroyed. Recent studies have revealed that very young RBCs, which are larger and have higher hemoglobin levels than mature cells, experience a rapid loss in size and hemoglobin content during their first few days. As the cells mature, they continue t
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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