Computer Model could Help Test New Sickle Cell Drugs

A team of Brown University researchers has developed a new computer model that simulates the way red blood cells become misshapen by sickle cell disease. The model, described in a paper published in Science Advances, could be useful in the preclinical evaluation of drugs aimed at preventing the sickling process.

"There are currently only two drugs approved by the FDA for treating sickle cell disease, and they don't work for everyone," said Lu Lu, a Ph.D. student in the Division of Applied Mathematics at Brown and the study's co-lead author. "We wanted to build a model that considers the entire sickling process and could be used to quickly and inexpensively pre-screen new drug candidates."

Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. The disorder causes red blood cells, which are normally soft and round, to become stiff, sticky and sickle-shaped (a bit like a crescent moon). The irregularly shaped cells get stuck in blood vessels, causing pain, swelling, strokes and other complications.

At the cellular level, sickle cell disease affects hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen. When oxygen-deprived, sickle cell hemoglobin clumps together inside the cell. The clumps then form long polymer fibers that push against the cell wall, stiffening the cells and forcing them out of shape.

George Karniadakis, a professor of applied mathematics at Brown and senior author of the new research, has worked for years to better understand the disorder. Most recently, he's worked with Lu and He Li, a research professor at Brown, to create detailed biophysical models of each stage of the sickling process, including a model of red blood cell function called OpenRBC and a supercomputer model of sickle cell fiber formation.

This new model combines and simplifies the previous models to create a single kinetic model of the entire sickling process. Using information gleaned from the detailed supercomputer models, the researchers were able to build a simplified version that captures all the important dynamics of the sickling process, yet can be run on a laptop.

To validate the model, the researchers showed that it could reproduce the outcomes of prior experiments in the lab and in people.

Because the dynamics of the sickling process can vary depending upon where in the body it's happening, researchers designed the model to simulate sickling process in different organs. For example, because oxygen plays a key role in the process, sickling unfolds very differently in oxygen-rich areas like the lungs compared to more oxygen-poor areas like the kidneys. The model allows users to input parameters specific to the organ they're hoping to simulate. That same flexibility also enables to model to be run for individual patients who may have more or less severe versions of the disorder.

To test the potential effectiveness of drugs, the model allows users to input the mode of action by which a drug is presumed to work, information is often gathered during preliminary lab studies. For example, if a drug is designed to boost the amount of healthy hemoglobin in red blood cells, that information can be used by the model to generate the effect on a large population of patient-specific or organ-specific red blood cells.

"Sometimes a drug can be designed to work on one parameter, but ends up having a different effects on other parameters," Karniadakis said. "The model can tell if those effects are synergistic or whether they may negate each other. So the model can give us an idea of the overall effect of the drug."

The researchers are hopeful the model could be useful in identifying promising drug candidates.

"Clinical drug trials are very expensive and the vast majority of them are unsuccessful," Karniadakis said. "The hope here is that we can do in silico trials to screen potential medications before proceeding to a clinical trial."

Lu Lu, Zhen Li, He Li, Xuejin Li, Peter G Vekilov, George Em Karniadakis.
Quantitative prediction of erythrocyte sickling for the development of advanced sickle cell therapies.
Science Advances, Vol. 5, no. 8. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax3905.

Most Popular Now

Apple Health Records Available for Allsc…

Allscripts (NASDAQ: MDRX) announced that Apple Health Records is now available for Allscripts Sunrise™, TouchWorks® and Professional EHR™ clients and their patients. Health Records brings together hospitals, clinics and the...

Machine Learning Improves the Diagnosis …

Researchers from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK) have successfully solved a longstanding problem in the diagnosis of head and neck cancers. Working alongside colleagues from...

Robotic Thread is Designed to Slip throu…

MIT engineers have developed a magnetically steerable, thread-like robot that can actively glide through narrow, winding pathways, such as the labrynthine vasculature of the brain. In the future, this robotic...

St Helens and Knowsley Advance with Ambi…

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trusthas successfully gone live with System C’s CareFlow Vitals as part of its ambitious strategy to accelerate digitisation and become a digital exemplar...

The Future of Mind Control

Electrodes implanted in the brain help alleviate symptoms like the intrusive tremors associated with Parkinson's disease. But current probes face limitations due to their size and inflexibility. "The brain is...

Experimental Validation Confirms the Abi…

Insilico Medicine, a global leader in artificial intelligence for drug discovery, today announced the publication of a paper titled, "Deep learning enables rapid identification of potent DDR1 kinase inhibitors," in...

Using a Smartphone to Detect Norovirus

A little bit of norovirus - the highly infectious microbe that causes about 20 million cases of food poisoning in the United States each year - goes a long way...

Medical Informatics Europe Conference 20…

28 April - 1 May 2020, Geneva, Switzerland. The European Federation of Medical Informatics (EFMI) presents the 30th Medical Informatics Europe conference (MIE) at the Geneva International Conference Center (CICG). This...

FRONTIERS HEALTH Comes Back to the Heart…

13 - 15 November 2019, Berlin, Germany. FRONTIERS HEALTH is a global event on digital health innovation with a strong focus on digital therapies, breakthrough technologies, healthcare transformation, investments and ecosystem...

International HL7 Interoperability Confe…

22 - 24 October 2019, Warsaw, Poland. 19th International HL7® Interoperability Conference (IHIC) will be held in Warsaw, Poland. The event, organized by HL7 Poland, will focus on implementation of healthcare...