Cognition and education benefits of increased hemoglobin and blood oxygenation in children with sickle cell disease

Joanna P. MacEwan, Allison A. King, Andy Nguyen, Anuj Mubayi, Irene Agodoa, Kim Smith-Whitley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Among individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD), decreased hemoglobin is associated with lower oxygen saturation (SpO2) and increased risk of stroke, both of which are associated with lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. Thus, increasing hemoglobin and SpO2 in individuals with SCD may increase IQ and educational attainment. Methods A cohort simulation model was built to determine academic performance and educational attainment based on cognitive function (measured by IQ) of a pediatric SCD cohort randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The model contained two key stages: childhood (<10 years) and adolescence (≥10 years). In stage 1, increased hemoglobin and increased SpO2 (assigned to the treatment group) were determinants of higher IQ, prevention of IQ deterioration over time. Increased hemoglobin was also a determinant of decreased stroke risk. In stage 2, improvement in adolescent IQ as a result of treatment was a determinant of academic performance. Results In a simulated cohort of 2000 children and adolescents with SCD (52.5% female, 50% treated), stroke incidence was predicted to be 44.4% lower among the treated group than the untreated group (4.5% versus 8.1%, respectively). The average IQ among the treated group was estimated to be 91.1 compared with 82.9 in the untreated group (a 9.9% difference; P<0.001). Finally, high school (≥12 years of education) completion rates were estimated to be 64.7% higher among the treated group: 76.1% of the treated group was projected to complete high school compared with 46.2% of the untreated group. Conclusions Our model predicts that an average improvement in hemoglobin of 1.1 g/dL (11 g/L) among individuals with SCD may be associated with improved neurocognition and educational outcomes. These improvements may also generate benefits not captured by our model, including improved quality of life, employment, and income.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0289642
JournalPloS one
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2023


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