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Diagnostics Hematology, Microscopy and imaging

Plastic Pays

Figure 1. The prototype 3D printed microscope.

Point-of-care (POC) tests developed for use in resource-poor countries are often centered on rapid, user-friendly ways to diagnosis a single disease, such as HIV. But if the causative disease is uncertain, or you need to monitor a patient’s progress, this approach might not always be the best one. Now, a team from Rice University, Texas, USA, have developed an all-plastic, 3D printed, digital fluorescence microscope to allow POC white blood cell (WBC) differential measurement (see Figure 1).

The low-cost microscope allows analysis of lymphocytes, monocytes and granulocytes in whole blood samples stained with acridine orange, which can be applied directly to wet, undiluted blood samples. The device also requires no manual optical adjustment between samples, allowing for preliminary imaging of a sample in just 10 minutes (1).

These factors could be particularly useful in helping healthcare workers better diagnose a range of conditions, such as bacterial or viral disease, or, for example, a change in total WBC count.

Point-of-care (POC) tests developed for use in resource-poor countries are often centered on rapid, user-friendly ways to diagnosis a single disease, such as HIV. But if the causative disease is uncertain, or you need to monitor a patient’s progress, this approach might not always be the best one. Now, a team from Rice University, Texas, USA, have developed an all-plastic, 3D printed, digital fluorescence microscope to allow POC white blood cell (WBC) differential measurement (see Figure 1).

The low-cost microscope allows analysis of lymphocytes, monocytes and granulocytes in whole blood samples stained with acridine orange, which can be applied directly to wet, undiluted blood samples. The device also requires no manual optical adjustment between samples, allowing for preliminary imaging of a sample in just 10 minutes (1).

Other POC systems for analyzing WBCs do exist, but with a purchase cost of over US$1,000, and a per-test cost of over $3, which is unfeasible for many resource-poor regions. Though their prototype cost over $3,000 to create, if mass-produced, the team estimate this could fall to around $600, with each test costing only a few cents. “One of the driving aspects of the project is the cost of the sample or sample preparation. Many systems which work for point-of-care applications have quite expensive cartridges. The goal of this research is to make it possible for those in impoverished areas to be able to get the testing they need at a manageable price point,” says Tomasz Tkaczyk, an associate professor at the Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, and part of the team who developed the microscope.

Future plans for the device include comparing the differential counts obtained with the plastic microscope to results from conventional benchtop WBC analysis. The team also hope to develop an automated algorithm for WBC identification, with the overall aim of making blood work cheaper, faster and easier in settings where expensive lab equipment may not be an option.

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  1. A Forcucci et al., “All-plastic, miniature, digital fluorescence microscope for three part white blood cell differential measurements at the point of care”, Biomed Opt Express, 6, 4433 (2015).
About the Author
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as an Associate Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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