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

o lose both volume and hemoglobin, but at significantly slower rates.

For the current study, the investigators worked to develop a relatively simple mathematical description of how the volume and hemoglobin content of the average RBC change over time. Starting from the known characteristics of young and mature cells, they developed equations that approximate how the young cells are transformed into mature cells. After building their model with data from healthy individuals, they discovered that data from patients with three types of anemia correspond to different parameter values in the model.

For example, it appears that RBCs from healthy individuals are cleared from the bloodstream before they shrink beyond a specific size. But in patients with mild iron-deficiency anemia or a genetic condition called thalassemia trait, RBCs continue shrinking past the clearance threshold for healthy cells. By looking for an increasing population of small RBCs in blood samples from individuals who had a normal blood test and then went on to develop iron-deficiency anemia 30 to 90 days later, the investigators were able to predict the development of iron-deficiency anemia.

"Looking for the initial shifting of this threshold may allow us to identify a developing anemia significantly earlier than we can now," Higgins says. "Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia in adults is often a sign of a much more serious disorder. One study showed that 11 percent of those with iron-deficiency anemia not caused by obvious bleeding actually had colon cancer. In cases like those, diagnosing anemia 90 days earlier would be comparable to diagnosing the underlying cancer 90 days sooner."

An assistant professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, Higgins notes that the expertise Mahadevan brought to their collaboration was invaluable. "There are very few mathematically sophisticated scientists who are as knowledgeable about biomedicine as Mahadevan
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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