Scientists at MIT ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have developed a portable device that can measure white blood cell levels in chemotherapy patients without having to take a blood sample.
Following a course of chemotherapy, white blood cell counts drops to significantly lower level, making the patients prone to serious infection. The device, however, can monitor the blood flow through capillaries to determine whether the white blood cell level is healthy or dangerously low.
“In the U.S., one in six chemotherapy patients ends up hospitalized with one of these infections while their white cells are particularly low,” said Carlos Castro-Gonzalez, one of the researchers involved in the study.
The portable device developed at MIT will allow patients to check their white blood cell levels at home, without the need of traveling to a test lab.
“Our vision is that patients will have this portable device that they can take home, and they can monitor daily how they are reacting to the treatment. If they go below the threshold, then preventive treatment can be deployed,” said Castro-Gonzalez.
The device consists of a microscope that patients can use to visualize capillaries in the skin at the base of their fingernail. The microscope then emits blue light which penetrates to approximately 150 microns below the skin and is reflected back to a camera that records the image. A computer algorithm then analyzes and interprets the image and determine if blood cell level is below the acceptable threshold. However, this device doesn’t give the precise blood count but is helpful to take precautionary measures to avoid an infection.
So far, the researchers have tested the device on 11 patients undergoing chemotherapy, and the technique has proven to be 95% accurate in identifying levels of white blood cells to be above or below the threshold. The research team is now working on further improving and commercializing the technique.