Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Clumps and Sickle Cell

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Clumps and Sickle Cell

Article excerpt

It has long been known that patients with sickle cell disease have malformed, "sickle-shaped" red blood cells--which are normally disc-shaped --that can cause sudden painful episodes when they block small blood vessels.

Now, researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine have shown that blood from sickle cell patients also contains clumps, or aggregates, of red and white blood cells that may contribute to the blockages. The study, published in the British Journal of Haematology, marks the first time that aggregates made up of red and white blood cells have been found in whole blood from sickle cell patients. The study also shows how the red and white blood cells adhere to one another: the interaction is mediated by a particular protein, integrin alpha four beta one.

Author Julia Brittain, a research assistant professor in the medical school's Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, says further study could lead to new treatments for the disease. "If the blockages are caused by these chunks of aggregates that are circulating in the blood, and we know how the aggregates are sticking together, we potentially could design drugs to disrupt the aggregates so that they pass through the blood vessel more freely," she says. …

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