A hand-held device which could offer point-of-care blood cell analysis in doctors' surgeries is being developed by academics at the University of Southampton and is described in a paper in Lab on a Chip this month.
A team led by Professor Hywel Morgan at the University’s Nano Research Group within the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) in conjunction with Professor Donna Davies and Dr Judith Holloway at the School of Medicine, has developed a microfluidic single-cell impedance cytometer that performs a white cell differential count. The system was developed in collaboration with Philips Research.
The device is described in a paper in Advance Articles in Lab on a Chip this month and can be accessed at: http://www.rsc.org/Publishing/Journals/LC/article.asp?doi=b910053a The chip within the device uses microfluidics – a set of technologies that control the flow of minute amounts of liquids – to measure a number of different cells in the blood. According to Dr David Holmes at ECS, lead author of the paper, the microfluidic set-up uses miniaturised electrodes inside a small channel. The electrical properties of each blood cell are measured as the blood flows through the device. From these measurements it is possible to distinguish and count the different types of cell, providing information used in the diagnosis of numerous diseases. The system which can identify the three main types of white blood cells: T lymphocytes, monocytes and neutrophils is faster and cheaper than current methods.
‘At the moment if an individual goes to the doctor complaining of feeling unwell, a blood test will be taken which will need to be sent away to the lab while the patient awaits the results,' said Professor Morgan. 'Our new prototype device may allow point of care cell analysis which aids the GP in diagnosing acute diseases while the patient is with the GP, so a treatment strategy may be devised immediately. Our method provides more control and accuracy than that what is currently on the market for GP testing.
The next step for the team is to integrate the red blood cell and platelet counting into the device. Their ultimate aim is to set up a company to produce a handheld device which would be available for about £1,000 and which could use disposable chips costing just a few pence each. Devices such as these will be fabricated in the Southampton Nanofabrication Centre, which opens on 9 September and will make smaller, more powerful nano- and bio-nanotechnologies possible and save industry time and money.