Detailed simulations reveal new information on sickle cell disease

Although there has yet to be a cure for sickle cell disease, researchers recently created detailed simulations on the Comet system at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) showing how these stiff red blood cells flow through blood vessels, deforming and colliding along the way.

The study, recently published in the Physical Review Fluids journal, reveals new information regarding the ways in which sickle cells collide with one another as well as healthy cells and blood vessel walls.

Our new simulations showed how the motions of sickle cells near vessel walls generate large forces. The forces caused by these sickle cells impact healthy cells on the blood vessel walls, which in turns causes inflammation."

Michael Graham, Study Principal Investigator and Professor of Chemical and Bological Engineering, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Graham said the group's simulations provided evidence regarding damage to healthy cells lining blood vessels, but the origin of this damage is not well understood. "Large-scale shared computing resources such as Comet open doors to doing simulations that could not be done with the resources of an individual research group," he said.

Graham collaborated with Wilbur Lam, a physician and biomedical engineer at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. "We are grateful for being able to use supercomputers such as Comet to help us better illustrate, and hopefully come closer to a cure for, sickle cell disease," said Lam, who is also a pediatric hematologist at Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, which has the largest pediatric hematology program in the United States.

Last year, Lam's dedication to sickle cell disease research was recognized by the Atlanta Business Chronicle as a finalist for the Health Care Innovator/Researcher Award in the Annual Health Care Heroes Awards.

In addition to his collaboration with Graham on these latest supercomputer simulations, Lam developed a non-invasive test for anemia that enables anyone at risk for that condition, including sickle cell disease patients, to send an image of their fingernails to measure their hemoglobin levels and determine whether they need to seek medical care.

Source:
Journal reference:

Zhang, X., et al. (2020) Flow-induced segregation and dynamics of red blood cells in sickle cell disease. Physical Review Fluids. doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevFluids.5.053101.

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