Getting A Snapshot Of A Patient’s Immune System

Researchers in Singapore have developed a lab-on-a-chip that can distinguish healthy white blood cells from unhealthy ones, with implications for diagnosing diseases.

AsianScientist (Oct. 22, 2019) – Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, have developed a lab-on-a-chip system that can identify the health aspects of a person’s immune system from a drop of their blood, within minutes. They published their findings in the journal Lab on a Chip.

Diagnostic tools are critical in the clinic as they grant insight into the root causes of diseases. In the case of diseases associated with the immune system, understanding the constitution of a patient’s white blood cell population would help doctors prescribe the right treatments.

In the present study, a team of researchers led by Assistant Professors Hou Han Wei and Holden Li combined small fluid-filled channels and electrical sensors to create a chip that can give clinicians a snapshot of the immune status of a patient.

As a patient’s blood sample passes through the microfluidic channels, the various blood cells get sorted by size into different outlets, like coins in a coin-sorting machine. The isolated white blood cells are then run through a special channel where electrical impedance is measured for each cell at a very high speed of hundreds of cells per second. The electrical impedance of an abnormal cell is usually higher than the impedance of a healthy cell since abnormal cells tend to be larger in size and have different membrane properties.

“Our chips can isolate thousands of white blood cells from a single drop of blood and, within minutes, tell if these cells are electrically different from normal, which would be an indicator of whether there is a health issue to be further investigated,” said Hou.

“More importantly, our process also does not use any chemical biomarkers or antibodies, which makes the assay cheap and easy to use. [We can also] do further analysis on the same white blood cells we have already run through the chip.”

The proof-of-concept device may one day help doctors to quickly gain insight into a person’s immune system, and spot early signs of inflammation and infection that could signal the need for further in-depth tests.

The article can be found at: Petchakup et al. (2019) Integrated Inertial-impedance Cytometry for Rapid Label-free Leukocyte Isolation and Profiling of Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs).


Source: Nanyang Technological University.
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