Anaemia detector

A new clinical detector that could improve care for patients suffering from a painful and incurable blood disease is being developed as part of a research project involving University of Nottinghamacademics.


The new Sickle Cell Anaemia Detector research project has been funded with a £237,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund – £112,000 of which will be coming to Nottingham – and involves partners at Imperial College and the Sickle Cell Society.


Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is one of the three most common of the world’s inherited diseases and affects 15,000 people in England alone. SCD causes major organ damage, drastically shortens life expectancy to between 40 and 50 years and is found in communities that either live in or originated from the global malaria belt. SCD fluctuates between dormant phases and painful crises that often need hospital treatment – adding to the healthcare burden.


The disease is caused by haemoglobin binding together, which leaves it unable to absorb oxygen from the air in the lungs. A minority of red blood cells become permanently rigid and change shape (hence ‘sickle’) and during crises they can obstruct blood vessels, causing intense pain.


As SCD is incurable, the purpose of therapies is to improve the quality of life for patients by managing the disease. However, this is hampered by the absence of objective and precise measures to determine the severity of the disease. Currently, doctors and nurses rely on the patient’s own assessment of their pain as no monitor exists to reveal what is happening inside the red blood cells. This leads to patient suffering and hampers the development of new treatments.


The new detector, being developed by the Applied Optics Group in the University’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, will take images of individual red blood cells as they flow through tiny blood vessels under the surface of the skin of patients with Sickle Cell Disease. These images will then be used to measure the physical properties of the cells, which should allow doctors to more accurately assess the severity of the disease.


The development of the instrument is being undertaken alongside investigations by researchers at ImperialCollege, at Hammersmith and CentralMiddlesexHospitals, to assess the best method of patient examination using currently available techniques.


In addition, The Sickle Cell Society is studying patients’ experiences of existing healthcare services, their relationships with doctors and nurses and whether they would accept the new monitor to assist in their treatment.