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Red Cell Substitute May Work Against Sickle Cell Disease

TUESDAY, July 24 -- People suffering from sickle cell anemia may one day find relief from a red blood cell substitute based on human hemoglobin, a new study says.

Sickle cell is an incurable, painful genetic disease in which red blood cells contain an abnormal type of hemoglobin and often have a sickle or half-moon shape. The sickle shape of the cells can prevent them from flowing through smaller blood vessels, cutting off blood flow and oxygen to tissues throughout the body and leading to further health complications.

The study researchers wanted to find out if a newly developed hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier called HRC 101 provides some protection against oxygen deprivation.

The researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto tested HRC 101 on normal mice and mice that had been genetically bred to mimic sickle cell disease. The sickle cell mice that were given HRC 101 tolerated a low-oxygen environment five times longer than those without the treatment.

Writing in the August issue of Anesthesiology, the researchers theorized that HRC 101 helps bypass the constricted blood flow by increasing the amount of oxygen carried in the blood, reduces the sickling of red blood cells, or bypasses blockages in the blood flow.

HRC 101 has an additional advantage over the blood transfusions many sickle cell patients require: It can be stored for long periods and doesn't require a blood type match.

The researchers called for further research to understand the way HRC 101 works and its potential as a treatment for humans. "HRC 101 warrants further evaluation as a therapeutic modality in sickle cell disease," study leader Dr. Mark W. Crawford said in a prepared statement.

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Posted: July 2007