Studying Sickle Cell Disease With a “Spleen on a Chip” | AIChE

Studying Sickle Cell Disease With a “Spleen on a Chip”


A new microfluidic chip that mimics the human spleen has given researchers a closer look into one of the complications of sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition that affects hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Abnormal hemoglobin causes red blood cells to stiffen and develop a sickle shape, making them less effective at carrying oxygen and more prone to clogging small blood vessels. One of the most dangerous side effects of sickle cell disease is acute splenic sequestration, a painful clogging of the spleen that often requires the organ to be removed.

While researchers knew that acute splenic sequestration likely involved the clogging of the spleen by sickled red blood cells, there was no way to watch this process evolve in real human tissue. Nor is it entirely clear why some people with sickle cell experience this crisis and others don’t. According to a 1985 study in the Journal of Pediatrics, only about 20% of people with sickle cell disease experience acute splenic sequestration, usually in early childhood.

Ming Dao, a principal research scientist in the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and his colleagues developed a “spleen on a chip” to probe the dynamics of acute splenic sequestration. This miniature device consists of two...

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