Background: Outcome measures for therapeutic studies in patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) are poor.Abnormal microvascular blood flow (MBF), the basis for tissue ischemia and injury associated with vaso-occlusion, would be an optimal outcome measure for SCD studies. Ideally, a modality to measure blood flow in SCD would non-invasively quantify microvascular tissue perfusion rather than assess conduit arterial flow through large vessels. Limitations of existing techniques to measure blood flow prevent their widespread use in clinical trials of patients with SCD. Contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEU) is a non-invasive and portable technique that uses standard ultrasound equipment to measure microvascular perfusion and functional capillary patency. The primary objective of this study was to determine whether CEU is able to detect differences in the MBF of skeletal muscle: 1) before and after infusion with the adenosine A2A receptor (A2AR) agonist regadenoson, and 2) between steady state and vaso-occlusive crisis (VOC).

Methods: CEU measurements were obtained in forearm skeletal muscle in adult HbSS patients. Two measures are used to calculate MBF: 1) velocity of RBCs through capillaries and 2) volume of blood perfused in an area of tissue. MBF is the product of RBC velocity and volume of blood. In one study cohort, MBF was measured in steady-state patients during a 24-hour infusion of regadenoson (1.44 µg/kg/hour). CEU perfusion imaging was obtained at baseline, 6 and 24 hours after initiation of regadenoson. In the second study cohort, CEU measurements were obtained within the same patient during a hospital admission for VOC and at steady state. MBF was expressed in terms of a ratio to baseline flow (pre-regadenoson) in cohort 1 and as a ratio of VOC to steady-state flow for cohort 2.

Results: CEU measurements were obtained in13 patients administered regadenoson, and 7 patients at steady state and during VOC. Median age (range) of all patients studied was 24 years (20-45) and 55% were female. During regadenoson infusion, there was a median increase in skeletal muscle MBF of 29% at 6 hours (ratio 1.29, IQR 0.81) and 9% at 24 hours (ratio 1.09, IQR 1.40). Increase in MBF during regadenoson administration was largely due to higher RBC velocity (6 hours ratio: 1.24, IQR 0.88; 24 hours: ratio 1.12 IQR 0.85). There was a median decrease of 40% in skeletal muscle blood flow during VOC compared to steady state (ratio 0.60, IQR 0.27). Similarly, a decrease in RBC velocity accounted for most of the reduction in MBF in VOC compared to steady state (ratio 0.63, IQR 0.35).

Conclusion: CEU measures of skeletal muscle MBF increased during a 24-hour infusion of regadenoson and decreased in VOC compared to steady state. Changes in RBC velocity, as opposed to the volume of blood perfused, accounted for most of the differences in MBF seen during regadenoson infusion and VOC. Alterations in rheology or vascular tone could explain these changes. These data provide additional evidence for the A2AR agonist regadenoson as a therapeutic modality for patients with SCD and suggest that CEU is a valid measure of blood flow in VOC. Taken together, the findings of this preliminary study demonstrate that CEU, a non-invasive, portable technique to measure MBF, could be used as an objective outcome measure for therapeutic studies in SCD.


Field:NKTT: Consultancy, Research Funding. Off Label Use: IND for regadenoson for treatment of VOC in sickle cell disease.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

Sign in via your Institution