Normal blood cells next to a sickle blood cell, colored scanning electron microscope image. Photo credit: Wikipedia / Illustration from Anatomy & Physiology

Scientists have found a way to lower the risk of stroke in sickle cell patients that opens a gateway to potential treatments for inflammation and clots related to conditions like COVID-19. For the first time, they investigated the use of immune cell proteins as an anti-inflammatory treatment to reduce blood clotting in people with sickle cell disease.

A study published today in the journal Blood explains how the Ac2-26 peptide flips a biological switch in immune cells in people with sickle cell disease.

“We’re particularly excited,” said Professor Felicity Gavins, Director of the Center for Inflammation Research and Translational Medicine (CIRTM) at Brunel University London. “We have targeted a pathophysiological immune response to help the body fight disease. It is paving the way for new therapies to prevent disorders related to thrombitis, which are linked to a range of conditions, including COVID -19 can belong. ”

Like sickle cell disease, COVID-19 triggers dangerous inflammation and thrombosis (blood clotting), which can lead to an increased risk of strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms (blood clotting in the lungs). The result could make a big difference for the elderly too, as the risk of thrombosis and inflammation increases with age.

The team examined the blood of 91 people between the ages of 18 and 52, half of whom had sickle cell disease. The Ac2-26 peptide is found in immune cells or white blood cells called neutrophils. When triggered, Ac2-26 switches on a signaling pathway – a protein and a receptor that quickly calm inflammation.

Neutrophils act like first aiders and are there first in an emergency. There, like when fishing, they throw out NETs (neutrophilic extracellular traps) to catch pathogens and protect the body. Sometimes NETs can also trigger diseases. They stack up and form a scaffold that other cells such as platelets adhere to. This build-up causes thrombitis – a hallmark of many diseases and conditions, including sickle cell disease, chronic kidney disease, sepsis, and cancer.

This is the first study to show that the Ac2-26 peptide can be used to alter the response of neutrophils in people with sickle cell disease so that they are no longer able to produce harmful NETs that can cause thrombitis. “These unique insights may spur drug discovery not only for sickle cell disease, but also for other diseases related to thrombitis such as ischemic stroke, aging, heart disease, cancer and even COVID-19,” said Professor Gavins.

What people with sickle cell disease need to know about COVID-19

More information:
Junaid Ansari et al. Targeting the AnxA1 / Fpr2 / ALX signaling pathway regulates neutrophil function and promotes the resolution of thrombi inflammation in sickle cell disease, blood (2021). DOI: 10.1182 / blood.2020009166

Journal information:
Blood provided by Brunel University

Quote: Sickle cell target could treat COVID (2021, Jan 28), retrieved from on Jan 28, 2021

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