Point-of-care blood analysis for GPs

Scientists at Southampton University and Philips Research have developed a hand-held device which could offer point-of-care blood-cell analysis in doctors’ surgeries.

A team led by Prof Hywel Morgan at the University’s Nano Research Group within the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) in conjunction with Prof 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 chip within the device uses microfluidics – a means of controlling the flow of minute amounts of liquids – to measure a number of different cells in the blood.

According to Dr David Holmes at ECS, the microfluidic set-up uses miniaturised electrodes inside a small channel.

The electrical properties of each blood cell are measured as the blood flows through the device. From these measurements it is possible to distinguish and count the different types of cell, providing information used in the diagnosis of many diseases.

The system can identify the three main types of white blood cells: T lymphocytes, monocytes and neutrophils and is said to be faster and cheaper than current 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 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.’

The next step for the team is to integrate the red blood cell and platelet counting into the device.

The Southampton team aims to set up a company to produce a handheld device which would be available for about £1,000 and which could use disposable chips costing a few pence each.

The device is described in a paper in Advance Articles in Lab on a Chip this month and can be accessed here: http://www.rsc.org/Publishing/Journals/LC/article.asp?doi=b910053a