New way to model sickle cell behavior

Microfluidic device allows researchers to predict behavior of patients’ blood cells.

Patients with sickle cell disease often suffer from painful attacks known as vaso-occlusive crises, during which their sickle-shaped blood cells get stuck in tiny capillaries, depriving tissues of needed oxygen. Blood transfusions can sometimes prevent such attacks, but there are currently no good ways to predict when a vaso-occlusive crisis, which can last for several days, is imminent.

“You don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen or how to reliably predict it is coming,” says Ming Dao, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.