Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New study suggests sickle cell disease may affect brain function in adults

Research to preserve cognitive abilities is under way

Sickle cell disease may affect brain function in adults who have few or mild complications of the inherited blood disease, according to results of the first study to examine cognitive functioning in adults with sickle cell disease.

The multicenter study, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, compared brain function scores and imaging tests in adult patients with few sickle cell complications with results in similar adults who did not have the blood disease.

Researchers report that the brain function scores in sickle cell patients were, on average, in the normal range. However, twice as many patients as healthy adults (33 percent versus 15 percent) scored below normal levels. Those who were more likely to score lower were older and had the lowest levels of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the blood, compared to sickle cell participants who scored higher. Findings from brain magnetic resonance imaging scans did not explain differences in scores.

Researchers at 12 sites within the NHLBI-supported Comprehensive Sickle Cell Centers conducted the study. Their results are published in the May 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. An editorial accompanies the article.

"This study suggests that some adult patients who have sickle cell disease may develop cognitive problems, such as having difficulty organizing their thoughts, making decisions, or learning, even if they do not have severe complications such as stroke related to sickle cell disease," said NHLBI Acting Director Susan B. Shurin, M.D. "Such challenges can tremendously affect a patient's quality of life, and we need to address these concerns as part of an overall approach to effectively managing sickle cell disease."

Researchers tested cognitive functioning of 149 adult sickle cell disease patients (between the ages of 19 and 55) and compared them to 47 healthy study participants of similar age and education levels from the same communities. All of the participants were African-American.

More sickle cell disease patients scored lower on measures such as intellectual ability, short-term memory, processing speed, and attention, than participants in the healthy group. The sickle cell disease participants did not have a history of end-organ failure, stroke, high blood pressure, or other conditions that might otherwise affect brain function.

"We need to study whether existing therapies, such as blood transfusions, can help maintain brain function, or perhaps even reverse any loss of function," noted Elliott P. Vichinsky, M.D., of the Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, principal investigator of the study and the lead author of the paper. "These effects were found in patients who have clinically mild sickle cell disease, which raises the question of whether therapies should be given to all patients to help prevent these problems from developing."

Researchers involved in this study are recruiting patients with sickle cell disease into a clinical trial to determine whether blood transfusions may help preserve cognitive function. Participants will receive transfusions every three or four weeks for six months as part of the clinical study. Information about this study can be found at, search for NCT00850018.

Sickle cell disease affects about 70,000 Americans. At one time, many children died from the disease, but new therapies have enabled sickle cell disease patients to live well into middle age or beyond. As more people with sickle cell disease are living into adulthood, health care providers are uncovering previously unrecognized complications.

Studies of brain function in children who have sickle cell disease have suggested that some children with the disease, even if they have not suffered a stroke, have experienced silent brain injury. Others without obvious changes on brain scans may have some level of cognitive dysfunction that seems to worsen with age. Stroke is a common complication of sickle cell disease, and can lead to learning disabilities, lasting brain damage, long-term disability, paralysis, or death.

Sickle cell disease involves an altered gene that produces abnormal hemoglobin. Red blood cells with sickle hemoglobin that have too little oxygen become C-shaped in addition to becoming stiff and sticky. These crescent-shaped cells can clump to block blood flow, causing severe pain and potential organ damage. In the United States, the disease mainly affects those of African descent, but it is also found in other ethnic groups, including those of Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent.

To speak with an NHLBI spokesperson, please contact the NHLBI Communications Office at (301) 496-4236. To speak with Dr. Vichinsky, please contact Erin Goldsmith at 510-428-3367 or email

Part of the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases; and sleep disorders. The Institute also administers national health education campaigns on women and heart disease, healthy weight for children, and other topics. NHLBI press releases and other materials are available online at

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit


Sickle Cell Disease:
Clinical Trials:

NHLBI Office of Communications | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>