Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a recessive genetic blood disorder exhibiting abnormal blood rheology. Polymerization of sickle hemoglobin, due to a point mutation in the β-globin gene of hemoglobin, results in aberrantly adhesive and stiff red blood cells (RBCs). Hemolysis, abnormal RBC adhesion, and abnormal blood rheology together impair endothelial health in people with SCD, which leads to cumulative systemic
complications. Here, we describe a microfluidic assay combined with a micro particle image velocimetry technique for the integrated in vitro assessment of whole blood viscosity (WBV) and RBC adhesion. We examined WBV and RBC adhesion to laminin (LN) in microscale flow in whole blood samples from 53 individuals with no hemoglobinopathies (HbAA, N = 10), hemoglobin SC disease (HbSC, N = 14), or homozygous SCD (HbSS, N = 29) with mean WBV of 4.50 cP, 4.08 cP, and 3.73 cP, respectively.
We found that WBV correlated with RBC count and hematocrit in subjects with HbSC or HbSS. There was a significant inverse association between WBV and RBC adhesion under both normoxic and physiologically hypoxic (SpO2 of 83%) tests, in which lower WBV associated with higher RBC adhesion to LN in subjects with HbSS.
Low WBV has been found by others to associate with endothelial activation. Altered WBV and abnormal RBC adhesion may synergistically contribute to the endothelial damage and cumulative pathophysiology of SCD. These findings suggest that WBV and RBC adhesion may serve as clinically relevant biomarkers and endpoints in assessing emerging targeted and curative therapies in SCD.