Researchers from the University of Illinois and physicians at Carle Foundation Hospital in the US have developed a new portable device to rapidly detect signs of sepsis infection from a single blood drop.

The research team from both the parties carried out a clinical study of the device using blood samples from the patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) and emergency room of the hospital.

The small, lab-on-a-chip device is expected to enable detection of the infection at onset, while it is able to monitor infected patients and provide a prognosis.

Unlike the standard time-taking tests, which monitor vital signs such as blood pressure, oxygen levels, and temperature whilst analysing blood cultures to identify the source of infection, the new device involves point-of-care measurement of the immune system’s response.

University of Illinois bioengineering professor Rashid Bashir said: “We are looking at the immune response, rather than focusing on identifying the source of the infection.

“One person’s immune system might respond differently from somebody else’s to the same infection. This test can complement bacterial detection and identification.

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“The new device involves point-of-care measurement of the immune system’s response.”

“We think we need both approaches: detect the pathogen but also monitor the immune response.”

In addition to the total number of white blood cells, the device specifically counts neutrophils and measures CD64 protein marker present on the neutrophils’ surface, as enhanced CD64 level is associated with increased immune response.

The results from the device were found to be comparable to the findings from the standard tests and with the patients’ vital signs.

The researchers are further working to incorporate the device with measurements for additional inflammation markers to allow early identification, while healthcare start-up Prenosis is planning to commercialise the new device.

Image: New small, lab-on-a-chip diagnostic device for sepsis. Photo: courtesy of Janet Sinn-Hanlon.