$6.1M grant awarded to Feinstein Institutes to further SCD treatment

Initiative to last 7 years and include 3 research projects on red cell disorders

Mary Chapman avatar

by Mary Chapman |

Share this article:

Share article via email
An illustration shows a close-up view of red blood cells.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $6.1 million grant to the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research to advance knowledge of red cell disorders, such as sickle cell disease (SCD), to develop new and better treatments.

SCD is caused by genetic mutations that ultimately result in red blood cells becoming rigid and deformed; other red cell conditions include Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA) and other forms of anemia. Collectively, these disorders affect more than 1 billion individuals worldwide and represent a significant cause of chronic illness and mortality. SCD alone is thought to affect some 20 million people globally.

The seven-year initiative, aimed at better understanding these disorders, will be led by Lionel Blanc, PhD, a professor in the Feinstein Institutes’ Institute of Molecular Medicine. The new project will build upon previous research and seek to reveal how red blood cells are produced — a process called erythropoiesis — and how that process is impaired in these disorders.

“Understanding red cell blood disorders, how they develop and progress, is essential given their global impact on millions,” Blanc said in a press release. “This grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute will help pave the way for innovative treatments and improve the quality of life for those affected.”

Recommended Reading
An adult stands at the bedside of a child receiving an intravenous infusion in a hospital bed.

Sickle cell children may not get preventive care: Study

The grant will fund three research projects. One will focus on studying and comparing ribosome and cell cycle length regulation in fetal versus adult erythropoiesis. Ribosomes are cell machinery components involved in the production of proteins.

Another will focus on exploring the erythromyeloblastic island — the specialized microenvironments in which red blood cell precursors grow and differentiate to give rise to new red blood cells — associated with DBA and SCD. The third project will attempt to identify and test new treatments for blood cell disorders.

“Dr. Blanc’s work in uncovering the fundamental molecular mechanisms of red blood cell disorders paves a path towards novel therapeutic approaches,” said Kevin J. Tracy, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes. “His translational research forms the foundation for identifying innovative treatments for complex blood disorders.”

A leader in hematology research, Blanc in 2022 published a study showing that a protein called high mobility group box-1 (HMGB1) impairs the body’s ability to make enough oxygen-rich red blood cells. At the time, the discovery opened new avenues of research pointing toward HMGB1 as a potential therapeutic target for certain forms of anemia.

In 2019, he received a $2.5 million NIH grant to study therapies for erythropoietic disorders, including DBA — a rare type of anemia that arises when the bone marrow malfunctions and is unable to produce enough red blood cells.

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, which encompasses 50 research labs and 5,000 researchers and staff, is home to the research institutes of Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider.