Researchers at University of British Columbia in Vancouver and McGill University in Montreal, Canada have developed a miniature testing device that can analyze the changes in red blood cells caused by common malaria parasites. The work of UBC engineering professor Hongshen Ma and colleagues appear in the journal Lab on a Chip (paid subscription required).
A human’s red blood cells must squeeze through capillaries much smaller in diameter than the cells themselves to deliver oxygen to tissues in the body. When infected with malaria, red blood cells gradually lose this capability, becoming stiffer, which disrupts blood flow and leads to failure of vital organs and eventually death.
The miniature 50 cm x 25 cm (2 x 1 inches) microfluidic device developed by Ma’s team deforms red blood cells through a series of funnel-shaped constrictions. The pressure required to push the cell through each constriction is measured and then used to calculate the cell’s deformability. These measurements of deformability act as indicators of the status of the disease in a patient, as well as the patient’s response to treatments.
Ma, who is also on the urology medical faculty at UBC, notes that the device can help those conducting laboratory research or clinical trials evaluate the efficacy of different compounds in treating malaria. The test can be particularly helpful in clinical settings or where lab facilities may not be readily available. “Current methods to measure red cell deformability,” says Ma, “are either too complex to be used in clinical settings or are not sensitive enough.”
Photo: Germán Meyer/Flickr
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