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New bone marrow model could help people with sickle cell disease

See also...
External Sites:
-Sickle Cell Society website
(Imperial College is not responsible for the content of these external internet sites)

For immediate release
18 February 2005

A new model showing how sickle cell blood cells operate within bone marrow is presented at a conference in Austria today. Researchers at Imperial College London, who developed the model, hope that it will eventually be used by clinicians to advance more effective treatments for sickle cell disease.


This disease causes red blood cells to become misshapen and rigid, meaning that they cannot move as easily around the body as normal flexible red blood cells. When the cells are travelling through tiny vessels, they get stuck and create blockages. This prevents the supply of oxygen to tissue, which leads to severe pain and can cause organ failure.


The model under development at Imperial mimics the movement of oxygen and all the cells in the bone marrow. Ultimately this should make it possible to analyse how the cells would react to different drugs. Examining the living bone marrow that produces blood cells is difficult because currently it can only be looked at through very invasive surgery. 


Robin Kumar, who is today presenting a paper about the model at the Biomed 2005 Conference in Innsbruck, says: "Sickle cell disease is a chronic condition, causing a lot of pain, making people prone to infections, and causing them to need regular medical attention. Our model is the first to show the way oxygen is delivered in the bone marrow of people with the disease, with the best representation of the tissue region. It gives a better understanding of the disease's effect on bone marrow and we hope that in due course this will assist in the development of superior drugs to fight the disease."


The model uses a number of mathematical equations to describe the functions and behaviour of the various cells within the bone marrow, such as red and white blood cells, platelets and those stem cells that produce fat, cartilage and bone. The behaviour of these cells, and the effects of oxygen upon them, can then be measured in relation to healthy bone marrow and the bone marrow of those with sickle cell disease.


Dr Sakis Mantalaris, lead researcher on the study, says: "This research is in its very early stages. However, the model is a step towards enabling scientists and clinicians to both understand how the disease affects bone marrow and to develop more effective treatments than the ones currently available." 




For further information please contact (media only):

Laura Gallagher
Imperial College London Press Office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6702
Mobile: +44 (0)7803 886 248


Notes to editors:


1. About sickle cell disease
* Sickle cell disease is a genetically inherited disorder that currently affects nearly 12,000 adults and children in the United Kingdom.
* In Britain, the disease is most common in people of African and Caribbean descent (at least 1 in 10-40 have sickle cell trait and 1 in 60-200 have sickle cell disease).
* The disease includes sickle cell anaemia and sickle beta thalassaemia. Of these, the most common and severe is sickle cell anaemia.
* People with sickle cell anaemia can suffer from anaemia and severe pain, with attacks of pain called crises. Over time sufferers can experience damage to organs such as the liver, kidney, lungs, heart and spleen, which may lead to death.
* Traditionally, the median life expectancy of people with sickle cell anaemia is mid-40s, although with modern treatments patients can survive into their 50s.


* Further information and advice can be found on the Sickle Cell Society website:


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