Stanford inventors have developed a new sensor that uses a clever combination of antibodies, magnets and laser light to count white blood cells in tiny samples of blood and other body fluids. The device is so small and inexpensive that it could be used nearly anywhere: at doctors' offices, disaster relief sites, battlefields or patients' homes. (In the photo at right, the portion of the sensor that holds a blood sample is shown next to a researcher's blue-gloved fingertip to give a sense of scale.) The inventors, who are now seeking a partner to commercialize the invention, hope it will some day be as ubiquitous as the portable glucometers that diabetics use to test their blood sugar.
“A low-cost way of counting cells could provide point-of-care diagnosis and monitoring for immune disorders, allergies, infections, AIDS, cancer and other disorders,” said Manish Butte, MD, PhD, who led the team of inventors.
The body has many types of white blood cells, each with different disease-fighting roles. White blood cell counts already help doctors diagnose some diseases and monitor treatment of others, including cancer and AIDS, but current cell-counting methods require fairly large blood samples and costly, slow equipment that can be operated only by trained laboratory technicians.
One possible application of the new sensor would allow doctors to solve a common, vexing problem: determining the cause of a runny nose. Instead of using the current trial-and-error method for diagnosing the problem, doctors could take a mucus sample from the patient in their office and measure the white blood cells present. Elevation of one type of white blood cells could implicate allergies, another cell type could point to a sinus infection and a third type of elevated cell count could suggest that the runny nose was simply due to the common cold.
Read the whole release for more details, including a description of how the sensor works.
Photo courtesy of Manish Butte