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A Procedure to Convert Sickle Cell Red Blood
Cells (RBCs) to Normal RBCs
Dr. Marina Kameneva of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and her team have
partnered with CMI to begin development of a real-world procedure to convert Sickle Cell Disease
red blood cells (RBC HbS) into normal, healthy cells (RBC Hb).
Sickle Cell Disease is caused by mutant
hemoglobin (HbS), which forces RBCs into a
sickle shape, making them ridged and sticky.
This in turn leads to blocked blood vessels,
severe pain, and organ damage, shortening
patients’ lives (Figure 1). The procedure under
development aims to withdraw patient’s blood,
remove the mutant HbS solution from RBCs,
and replace it with healthy donor hemoglobin
solution (Hb) before returning these blood cells
to the patient. In its final form, the procedure
will look similar to kidney dialysis (Figure 2).
Figure 1: A comparison of normal and Sickle Cell
Disease red blood cells2
Sickle Cell Disease affects approximately
100,000 Americans, primarily of African
descent. It is even more common in Africa
(approximately 1 of 100 children are born with
the disease), and Southeast Asia. Over time,
patients with the disease will develop multiple
organ failure, leading to a realty reduced life
expectancy, as well as enormous medical
expenses. Current treatments involve drugs and
transfusions of donor blood in exchange for
sickle cell blood. However, the drugs are
expensive and often have dangerous side
effects. Donor blood transfusions often trigger
immune responses (especially across different
races), which can nullify the treatment or even
lead to death.
The proposed new procedure replaces the defective protein inside the RBCs, instead of
the cells themselves, eliminating the potential immune response and providing a more
effective treatment with enhanced long-term viability.
Figure 2: A general diagram of the procedure
Biography1: Dr. Marina Kameneva is a Research Professor of Surgery and Professor of
Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the Director of the Artificial Blood
Program at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Kameneva received her PhD in
Mechanical Engineering from the School of Mathematics and Mechanics at Moscow State
University (former Soviet Union) and subsequently worked at the Research Institute of Mechanics,
Moscow State University. After emigration to the United States, Dr. Kameneva joined the faculty of
the University of Pittsburgh as a Visiting Scientist of the Artificial Heart and Lung Program and was
appointed as a Research Assistant Professor of Surgery in 1996, as a Research Associate Professor of
Surgery in 2000, and as Research Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering in 2006. Her major areas
of expertise are biorheology, hemorheology, macro- and microhemodynamics, drag-reducing
polymers (DRPs) and their potential biomedical applications, and mechanical blood trauma in
artificial organs. She is the author of over 400 peer reviewed journal articles, conference/symposia
proceedings, and abstracts, as well as several book chapters in the areas of Fluid Mechanics,
Bioengineering, and Biorheology.