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Sickle cell vasoocclusion and rescue in a microfluidic device

Higgins, J.M., Eddington, D.T., Bhatia, S.N., Mahadevan, L.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2007 v.104 no.51 pp. 20496-20500
abnormal hemoglobin, erythrocytes, genotype, linkage (genetics), melting, pathophysiology, phenotype, polymerization, polymers, rheology, sickle cell anemia
The pathophysiology of sickle cell disease is complicated by the multiscale processes that link the molecular genotype to the organismal phenotype: hemoglobin polymerization occurring in milliseconds, microscopic cellular sickling in a few seconds or less [Eaton WA, Hofrichter J (1990) Adv Protein Chem 40:63-279], and macroscopic vessel occlusion over a time scale of minutes, the last of which is necessary for a crisis [Bunn HF (1997) N Engl J Med 337:762-769]. Using a minimal but robust artificial microfluidic environment, we show that it is possible to evoke, control, and inhibit the collective vasoocclusive or jamming event in sickle cell disease. We use a combination of geometric, physical, chemical, and biological means to quantify the phase space for the onset of a jamming event, as well as its dissolution, and find that oxygen-dependent sickle hemoglobin polymerization and melting alone are sufficient to recreate jamming and rescue. We further show that a key source of the heterogeneity in occlusion arises from the slow collective jamming of a confined, flowing suspension of soft cells that change their morphology and rheology relatively quickly. Finally, we quantify and investigate the effects of small-molecule inhibitors of polymerization and therapeutic red blood cell exchange on this dynamical process. Our experimental study integrates the dynamics of collective processes associated with occlusion at the molecular, polymer, cellular, and tissue level; lays the foundation for a quantitative understanding of the rate-limiting processes; and provides a potential tool for optimizing and individualizing treatment, and identifying new therapies.