The dots in that video above? Fifteen microns in length. What you’re seeing is white blood cells sorting out of a blood sample, and something that may save lives.
Many diagnoses in medicine depend on knowing your white blood cell count. As your white blood cells are your body’s defense mechanism, an unusually high or unusually low number of them can tell doctors if something is going off the rails in your body. Unfortunately, most methods of counting white blood cells are a bit inaccurate. So researchers at MIT developed a “magnet” that pulls them out of the overall bloodstream.
The channels you see above that are pulling the white blood cells along are coated with P-selectin, what your body uses to summon white blood cells to its infected areas. So, as the blood flows past, the white blood cells are naturally attracted to the channels and flow up them into a sorting area.
This is just a concept for now, although it’s proof that the concept works, but as this technology becomes available in hospitals, it’s going to make a major difference. Right now, diagnosing and treating some conditions, such as sepsis, require multiple blood samples and detailed analysis. It’s an imprecise and difficult process, especially for children and infants. And the clock can be ticking to make the right diagnosis and treat the patient.
This, however, just requires a small blood sample and will offer a much more precise count. When fully finished, it’ll be a microchip that you run your blood sample through, getting faster, more accurate results. Or, if you’re a nuts and bolts kind of person, we can sum it up this way: If you have to go to the hospital and get your blood drawn? They’ll only need to do it once.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.