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University researchers develop more complete model of sickle cell

University researchers have developed computational methods using a supercomputer that enables them to dive deep inside sickle cells and analyze their molecular characteristics. By modeling the processes responsible for sickle cell formation, the team will be able to explore possible treatments for the disease.

Sickle cell anemia is caused by a genetic mutation that makes normally concave, round red blood cells become stiff and misshapen, said George Karniadakis, professor of applied mathematics. Sickle cell was identified as the first molecular disease by Nobel laureate Linus Pauling in 1949.

Pauling’s initial characterization was based on the behavior of hemoglobin, a molecule normally distributed evenly throughout the red blood cell. In an infected individual, the molecule “will self-assemble into a fiber, and this fiber will push the red blood cell into a sickle shape,” said Lu Lu GS, the study’s first author and a member of Karniadakis’ research group.