PhotoSickle cell disease is a hereditary blood disorder that affects red blood cells, distorting their natural disc shape into a crescent moon or “sickle” shape.

This misshapen form makes it more difficult for these red blood cells to move through blood vessels. They can block the flow of blood and break apart, leading to internal organ damage – not to mention a lot of pain.

“A major challenge in the management of sickle cell disease is the tremendous pain that patients endure from chronic and acute pain episodes called pain crisis,” said Sarah Du, a professor at Florida Atlantic University. “Unfortunately, these pain episodes are unpredictable and patients never know when or where these episodes will take place.”

National Science Foundation grant

With a small grant from the National Science Foundation, Du has designed and will develop a portable smart sensor and a phone application for patients to analyze and store the results of their blood tests on a smart phone.

The app will enable sickle cell patients to keep a close watch on any abnormal activities in their blood cells and take required action at the first sign of an attack.

This will be a first for sickle cell patients. The system will consist of a disposable test, a lot like a glucometer that is used by patients who have diabetes.

The system will allow patients to monitor what their red blood cells are doing and better manage the condition by making sure they are always appropriately hydrated and have the right amount of oxygen.

Uses small drop of blood

“We will only need to use a very small drop of blood from a finger stick that will then be loaded into a microscale channel that is biochemically modified,” said Du. “Then, the embedded microprobes inside the channel together with the microprocessor will transmit the signals of blood cells to a patient’s cell phone revealing the results of their blood test.”

The next step, she says, is to use the sensor technology as a part of a smart and connected health system for sickle cell disease management. The readings could be shared with a health care provider, who could then send intervention strategies, feedback, and even prescription medications.

Sickle cell disease affects millions world-wide, including both children and adults. In the U.S., it disproportionately affects people of African descent, as well as Hispanics and those of Middle Eastern descent.

It's estimated that about two million Americans carry this genetic mutation, which affects about 100,000 individuals in the U.S.