Brown University

Skip to Navigation

Computer Models Figure Out Sickle Cell Crisis

June 26, 2013

A computer simulation shows the relative stickiness of SS2 and sickle cells. Credit: Karniadakis lab/Brown University

Using powerful computer models, first author Huan Lei, a postdoctoral researcher in applied mathematics, and other researchers at Brown have shown for the first time how different types of red blood cells interact to cause sickle cell crisis, a dangerous blockage of blood flow in capillaries that causes searing pain and tissue damage in people with sickle cell disease.

The models showed that the rigid, crescent-shaped red blood cells that are the hallmark of sickle cell disease don’t cause these blockages on their own. Instead, softer, deformable red blood cells known as SS2 cells start the process by sticking to capillary walls. The rigid sickle-shaped cells then stack up behind the SS2s, like traffic behind a car wreck.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could provide a way to evaluate drug treatments aimed at easing or preventing sickle cell crisis, also known as vaso-occlusion.

Read more of Kevin Stacey's article about sickle cells.