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Researchers develop handheld white blood cell tracker

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A US research team has developed a device that quickly counts a person’s white blood cells with a single drop of blood, similar to the way glucometers rapidly scan for blood sugar levels.

The development of the device by researchers at Rutgers startup RizLab Health Inc. along with the clinical validation is published in the science and medical journal PLOS One.

Mehdi Javanmard is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Rutgers School of Engineering.

Javanmard, co-founder and CEO of RizLab Health Inc, launched the startup based on advances in his Rutgers lab.

He said: “Normally, doing a blood count requires a phlebotomist taking a needle stick and collecting significant amounts of venous blood and sending the samples off to labs where they are tested, sometimes taking hours or even days.

“Our handheld device enables near-patient testing, while only requiring a tiny amount of blood and returning results within minutes, allowing clinicians to make decisions almost immediately.”

Called the CytoTracker Leukometer, the device is designed to quickly aid the detection of elevated or reduced white blood cell counts, a critical signal of a patient’s immune system status.

A high or low white blood cell count can indicate the intensity of an infection, the presence of life-threatening conditions such as sepsis or determine how patients are responding to chemotherapy and psychotropic drugs.

The technology was successfully tested in trials by pitting the device in a head-to-head comparison with a lab benchtop haematology analyser, a conventional blood testing technique.

Dr Tanaya Bhwomick of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Pediatric Clinical Research Center co-authored the paper.

She said: “Rapid test results have revolutionised the field of medicine.

“The white blood count is a parameter that physicians routinely order to evaluate a patient for possible infection.

“Having this information rapidly can help triage patients in the outpatient setting.”

The results showed the CytoTracker Leukometer to be at least 97 per cent accurate and meet clinical standards.

Javanmard said he anticipates multiple uses for the device.

Sepsis in a patient entering an emergency room could more quickly be detected on the device than through present methods requiring a blood draw and a lab test, the researcher said said.

Meanwhile, cancer doctors could rapidly determine whether patients undergoing chemotherapy need a white blood cell stimulant.

The device also may make it easier for psychiatry patients to stay on their medications.

Patients taking clozapine, which is a common treatment for disorders such as schizophrenia, often experience neutropenia, or low levels of neutrophils.

These patients are required to undergo regular testing for neutrophil levels before they can obtain a prescription which often prevents patients from procuring much-needed treatment, Javanmard said.

Javanmard said: “Others have made failed attempts to tackle this holy grail by aiming to identify dozens or even hundreds of biochemical constituents with a single drop of blood.

“Such attempts are fundamentally very difficult. As a result, we found it to be much more realistic to focus only on the white blood cells with the key sub-types as a start.”

Image: RizLab Health Inc.

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