MIT researchers develop noninvasive, fingertip device to count white blood cells in real time

Finger-worn device to count white blood cells--Courtesy of MIT

A group of bioengineers have developed a noninvasive, portable device that resembles a finger-worn, pulse oximeter to count white blood cells. They have three workable prototypes that are being tested with chemotherapy patients to track their immune system in real-time. The researchers aim to have an initial beta product that it can support via crowdfunding in 2017, with a product on the market potentially in 2019.

The idea is to create a device that can be used to continuously monitor immunosuppressed patients, such as those on chemotherapy, and to detect serious infections.

The project, dubbed Leuko, is being worked on by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers and it is financially supported by Madrid-MIT M+Visión, a consortium of Madrid and Boston research centers and hospitals, as well as the Center of Future Technologies in Cancer Care and the Coulter Foundation. The research thus far has required roughly €400,000 ($448,250).

Carlos Castro, a biomedical engineer from the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, said in a statement that the new device "will allow white blood cells to be measured simply and painlessly. The same way diabetics nowadays have a glucometer to check their glucose levels, patients undergoing chemotherapy will be able to use a 'leukometer' in the future to estimate the state of their immune system."

It will also aid in the personalization of chemotherapy treatment as it enables a monitoring of the ongoing immune-response. It's expected to be particularly useful for lymphoma and leukemia patient whose "treatment doses could be maximized for each individual without compromising their immunological system. Treatment efficiency could be improved while reducing the risk of suffering serious infections," he added.

The idea for the device started two years ago when the researchers were in Madrid. They observed that immunosuppression is the primary side effect of chemotherapy--which can lead to infection hospitalizations, treatment delays and shorter life expectancy.

The device is placed on a patient's fingertip, much like a standard pulse oximeter. With a small lens, the device captures images of the capillaries that are very close to the surface in the nailbed. Light is absorbed by the hemoglobin in the red cells, but the white cells appear as small transparent particles.

Next, "our image processing algorithms recognize these events and count them, providing an estimate for their concentration in the blood," said Castro. He expects the device will enable these sorts of continuous measurements both in a healthcare setting as well as at home.

The team of researchers are working on technical proof-of-concept and are testing the first prototypes.

- here is the announcement

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