Stanford Researchers Develop Immune-System Sensor to Count White Blood Cells

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a medical sensor capable of diagnosing several diseases from the common cold to severe immune deficiencies.

The integrated microfluidics-waveguide sensor has been designed to sort and count the number of cells in a given sample of body fluids and blood. The sensor measures the type of white blood cells present in the sample. The count of the white blood cells helps the doctors to diagnose the disease sooner and administer an effective treatment plan. Each type of white blood cell in the human body plays a disease-fighting role for the immune system. Traditional cell counting methods required for diagnosis of diseases including AIDS and cancer requires large blood samples and costly equipment that can only be operated by trained lab technicians.

The lead investigator, Dr. Manish Butte stated that point-of-care diagnosis and monitoring can be provided by the low-cost cell counting sensor for allergies, immune disorders, infections, cancer, AIDS and other disorders. The paper on the research has been published on the March 7 issue of Biomicrofluidics.

The sensor can be used on newborns to screen for combined immunodeficiency, a congenital disease where a major part of the infant’s immune system is missing. Known as “bubble boy disease", the illness affects one in 100,000 newborns. General method to screen newborns for combined immunodeficiency generally takes up to six weeks. A newborn born with the compromised immune system can contact a severe infection or life-threatening disease in the six week period. The sensor can count the T-cells in a newborn in a 15-minute period.

The integrated microfluidics-waveguide sensor can also be used to detect infections in patients who have suffered a kidney failure, have received organ transplants or are being treated for rheumatoid arthritis with immune-suppressing drugs. The sensors can monitor the immune systems of such patients and can be easily used by patients.

The low-cost sensor is the size of a human thumbnail. It can be deployed in disaster sites, battlefields, nurseries, doctors’ offices and at the homes of patients.

The research for the sensor was funded by the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the SPARK translational research program at the School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Council.


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