MIT's White Blood Cell Magnet Could Revolutionize Disease Diagnosis

To give you an idea of how micro this video is, those dots you see moving diagonally toward the top of the screen are individual white blood cells. What you're looking at is a microchip that sorts out white blood cells from a blood sample. It makes a great visual, but more importantly, it could seriously improve the way we diagnose disease.


Researchers at MIT used the same process that goes on inside your body to attract white blood cells away from the general blood flow. They coated tiny channels (the diagonal stripes in the video) with a sticky molecule called P-selectin, which your body uses to attract white blood cells to injured tissue. As blood passes from left to right along the bottom, white blood cells filter out, and roll away along the P-selectin coated ramps.

While this is pretty cool to watch on the small screen — each one of those white blood cells is around 15 micrometers in diameter — the real benefit to this technology is how quickly and easily it provides samples of pure white blood cells. Sepsis, a potentially fatal full-body inflammatory reaction caused by serious infection, is diagnosed by measuring white blood cell counts. Current diagnosis requires multiple blood samples and complex processing, but since this microchip filters out white blood cells automatically, there's less opportunity for contamination or error, and it only requires a tiny amount of blood, a huge benefit in diagnosing sepsis in infants. While practical application is a long way off, researchers know the concept will work, in part because it's been working in our bodies all along. [Nature via PhysOrg]

Video by MITNewsOffice


Complex processing? I just took ten drops of blood right now from a kid and ran it through a counter machine whose technology (electrical impedance and radio signal diffraction) has been around since the 50s, and I got a result in one minute 30 seconds. I'm sure this technology has it's benefits, but I think they're trying to reinvent the wheel.