New sampling device promises to make blood tests needle-free

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The HemoLink device can draw enough blood for certain routine tests without the need for needles ...

The HemoLink device can draw enough blood for certain routine tests without the need for needles (Photo: David Tenenbaum). View gallery (2 images)

Though the pain they cause is minor and fleeting, a lot of people still find something pretty unsettling about needles. When it comes to conducting a routine blood test, US-based company Tasso Inc. believes that these unpleasant pricks can be removed from the equation completely. Its ping pong ball-sized HemoLink blood sampler can be operated by the patient at home, and needs only to be placed against the skin of the arm or abdomen for two minutes to do its job.

The roots of HemoLink can be traced back to the Tasso founders' research in microfluids at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was here that observations of circulating tumor cells, immune cells and visions of a medical device startup spawned the beginnings of Tasso Inc., which has just received US$3 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

HemoLink is designed as a low-cost, disposable device made from as few as six injection-molded plastic parts. Inside is a vacuum, which enables a small sample of blood to be drawn from tiny open channels into a small tube through a process known as capillary action. This process is made possible by forces that dictate the flow of tiny fluid streams, even against gravity.

"At these scales, surface tension dominates over gravity, and that keeps the blood in the channel no matter how you hold the device," says Tasso Inc.'s vice president and co-founder Ben Casavant.

The device can draw around 0.15 cubic centimeters of blood, which is enough to test for things like cholesterol, infections, cancer cells and blood sugar, before being mailed off to a lab for analysis. The company says that its target market will be people who need blood samples to be taken regularly, but not constantly, with the device being so simple to use that patients can take their own blood samples.

"We see our specialty as people who need to test semi-frequently, or infrequently, to monitor cancer or chronic infectious diseases, for example," says Casavant.

The money from DARPA will go toward advancing the preservation of the blood. The agency hopes to get to the point where they can stabilize the blood so it can survive for one week at 140° F (60° C). This would remove the need for expensive cold-chain transportation.

Tasso Inc. plans on applying to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval at the end of this year, with hopes of bringing HemoLink to market in 2015. If this eventuates, its benefits could be two-fold: easing the pain for needle-phobic patients and making healthcare cheaper and more accessible by eliminating countless trips to the doctor.

Source: Tasso Inc.

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