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Timing is everything in surgery and blood analysis informs the doctors about the presence of disease. Now a team of British electronic professors and medical doctors has developed a new device to do it on the fly in the operating room. If successful _ and it looks like they are well on the way to mastering the engineering issues _ this will save lives and prevent unavoidable errors.

Science Daily reports on Aug. 29, 2009 about a new hand-held device featuring a microfluidic chip and micro-electrodes, that allow a surgeon to get instant blood cell analysis of the patient’s blood. The device is in development at the University of Southampton in the U.K. The work is described in Lab on a Chip.

David Holmes, David Pettigrew, Christian H. Reccius, James D. Gwyer, Cees van Berkel, Judith Holloway, Donna E. Davies and Hywel Morgan. Leukocyte analysis and differentiation using high speed microfluidic single cell impedance cytometry.

Lab on a Chip, 2009; DOI: 10.1039/b910053a

The Southampton 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 Abstract:

Miniature high speed label-free cell analysis systems have yet to be developed, but have the potential to deliver fast, inexpensive and simple full blood cell analysis systems that could be used routinely in clinical practice. We demonstrate a microfluidic single cell impedance cytometer that performs a white blood cell differential count. The device consists of a microfluidic chip with micro-electrodes that measure the impedance of single cells at two frequencies. Human blood, treated with saponin/formic acid to lyse erythrocytes, flows through the device and a complete blood count is performed in a few minutes. Verification of cell dielectric parameters was performed by simultaneously measuring fluorescence from CD antibody-conjugated cells. This enabled direct correlation of impedance signals from individual cells with phenotype. Tests with patient samples showed 95% correlation against commercial (optical/Coulter) blood analysis equipment, demonstrating the potential clinical utility of the impedance microcytometer for a point-of-care blood analysis system.

Microfluidics – a set of technologies that control the flow of minute amounts of liquids – are incorporated inside the chip and measure a number of different cells in the blood. Tiny electrodes in a channel measure the electrical properties of each blood cell as the blood cells flow through the device. Each blood cell type is identified and counted. This allows the surgery team to identify and diagnose the presence of various diseases. The system recognizes the three main types of white blood cells: T lymphocytes, monocytes and neutrophils more rapidly and less expensively than other available 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.

Getting the device to do the same with red blood cells and platelet count is next for the research team. The device is targeted to be handheld and cost in the range of $1,500 to $2,000 US. The devices would utilize a disposable chip costing a few dollars each. A new facility called the Southampton Nanofabrication Centre opens on 9 September 2009 to make the devices.

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