Device measures risk of infection from a blood drop in minutes

5 December 2013

A team at the BioMEMS Resource Center at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a device to rapidly test for inflammation in response to infection.

The miniaturized silicon-based device can be used to measure accumulation of a type of white blood cell called a neutrophil from just a finger prick of blood in a few minutes.

The most abundant type of white blood cell, neutrophils function primarily as the body’s first line of defense against infection and inflammation. Within minutes of stimulation, neutrophils migrate from the blood to tissue where they accumulate at sites of infection. One of the most common lab tests ordered on a regular basis is the counting of neutrophils in the blood (absolute neutrophil count).

“However, simply counting the neutrophils may not be enough in many cases. If neutrophils do not migrate well and cannot reach inside the tissues, this situation could have the same consequences as a low neutrophil count,” says Dr Daniel Irimia, Assistant Professor at the BioMEMS Resource Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The device was designed such that probing neutrophil mobility becomes extremely easy to perform.”

Current methods to measure neutrophil functions involve separating the neutrophils from the whole blood. This separation process can take up to two hours to prepare and execute by skilled lab personnel. In a clinical context, such as cases of patients with burn injuries, this is not ideal as priorities can shift quickly throughout the day.

By being able to measure the risk for infections that a particular patient has at a particular time, in a matter of minutes, from just a droplet of blood, is a significant improvement and one that will improve current treatment.


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