What Can Physics Tell Us About Sickle Cell Disease? (surprisingly, a lot)

March 31, 2017

Frank A. Ferrone, Department of Physics, Drexel University

Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that affects the blood of about 100,000 Americans, and millions world-wide.  It arises because a single point mutation allows the hemoglobin that fills the red cells to assemble into long, stiff, multistranded fibers.  These fibers deny the red cell its necessary pliability, and thus clog the circulation, depriving the tissues of the oxygen they require.  We now understand the mechanism by which this assembly proceeds in great detail.    Remarkably, basic physical principles — entropic forces, Hooke's law deformations, random barrier crossings, Brownian ratchets — play a significant role in understanding the nature of this disease, and in the strategies available to cure it.