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The Scientific World Journal
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 694146, 12 pages
Review Article

Biologic Complexity in Sickle Cell Disease: Implications for Developing Targeted Therapeutics

Department of Pediatrics, Cardiovascular Research Institute, Morehouse School of Medicine, 720 Westview Drive SW, Atlanta, GA 30310-1495, USA

Received 29 December 2012; Accepted 29 January 2013

Academic Editors: Y. Al-Tonbary, M. A. Badr, A. Mansour, and F. Tricta

Copyright © 2013 Beatrice E. Gee. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Current therapy for sickle cell disease (SCD) is limited to supportive treatment of complications, red blood cell transfusions, hydroxyurea, and stem cell transplantation. Difficulty in the translation of mechanistically based therapies may be the result of a reductionist approach focused on individual pathways, without having demonstrated their relative contribution to SCD complications. Many pathophysiologic processes in SCD are likely to interact simultaneously to contribute to acute vaso-occlusion or chronic vasculopathy. Applying concepts of systems biology and network medicine, models were developed to show relationships between the primary defect of sickle hemoglobin (Hb S) polymerization and the outcomes of acute pain and chronic vasculopathy. Pathophysiologic processes such as inflammation and oxidative stress are downstream by-products of Hb S polymerization, transduced through secondary pathways of hemolysis and vaso-occlusion. Pain, a common clinical trials endpoint, is also complex and may be influenced by factors outside of sickle cell polymerization and vascular occlusion. Future sickle cell research needs to better address the biologic complexity of both sickle cell disease and pain. The relevance of individual pathways to important sickle cell outcomes needs to be demonstrated in vivo before investing in expensive and labor-intensive clinical trials.