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August 5, 2013

New microchip sorts white blood cells from whole blood

Device may be used to quickly detect signs of sepsis and other inflammatory diseases.

By Ben Sullivan

A group of MIT scientists have developed a new microchip that can quickly separate white blood cells from samples of whole blood.

The hope, scientists say, is to integrate the technology into a portable diagnostic device that can be used to directly analyse patient blood samples for signs of inflammatory diseases such as sepsis, particularly in regions of developing countries where diagnostic lab equipment is not readily available.

In 2012, MIT scientists reported on the development of a stamp-sized chip that was capable of sorting cells through a technique known as cell rolling, which mimics a natural mechanism in the body. The technique successfully separated leukemia cells from cell cultures, but could not directly extract cells from blood.

However, the recent breakthrough by researchers at MIT shows the microchip recovering a highly pure stream of white blood cells "virtually devoid of other blood components such as platelets and red blood cells."

Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said the key to recovering such pure, functional cells lies in the microchip’s adaptation of the body’s natural process of cell rolling.

"We believe that because we’re using a very biomimetic process, the cells are happier," Karnik said. "It’s a more gentle process, and the cells are functionally viable."

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