Holographic microscope could speed asthma diagnoses in children
Diagnosing asthma in small children is often challenging, as standard measures such as lung function tests can't be used below a certain age. A new blood-analysis device could help, however, delivering definitive results in less than two hours.
A type of holographic microscope, the tool is being developed by scientists at Germany's Fraunhofer Research Institution for Marine Biotechnology and Cell Technology, working with colleagues from the Pattern Recognition Company and imaging tech firm Raytrix. The research is part of the state-sponsored KillAsthma project.
Users start by placing a single drop of the patient's blood in a microfluidic cartridge, along with a substance that triggers an inflammatory response in that sample's white blood cells (also known as immune cells). The loaded-up cartridge is then put in the microscope, where an integrated LED and CMOS sensor three-dimensionally image up to 3,000 of those cells at once.
Utilizing artificial intelligence-based algorithms that were "trained" on blood samples from individuals who had already been diagnosed with asthma via traditional methods, software on a linked computer analyzes the speed at which the white blood cells are moving. This is the key to the technology – although immune cells in both healthy people and asthma sufferers move in response to an inflammatory stimulus, the cells of asthmatics do so much more slowly than is normal.
After approximately 90 minutes of tracking and analyzing cell movement, the software is thus able to accurately determine whether or not the patient has asthma. The potential uses of the technology don't stop there, however.
"Our method can also be used to analyze other diseases," says Fraunhofer's Dr. Daniel Rapoport. "This is especially true for autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatism. Diagnosing these conditions is a long, tedious process and can be expedited considerably with a tailored rapid test."