If successful in further laboratory and clinical assessments, the chip could be turned into a portable device suitable for family clinics and polyclinics.

NTU Singapore scientists develop low-cost chip that can analyse white blood cell health in minutes

By Dean Koh
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Credit: NTU Singapore

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a lab-on-a-chip system that can identify the health aspects of a person’s immune system from a drop of their blood, within minutes.

The new chip was designed and built by Assistant Professor Hou Han Wei and Assistant Professor Holden Li from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Their invention could be turned into a portable device suitable for family clinics and polyclinics, if it proves to be successful in further laboratory and clinical assessments.

The proof of concept device may one day help doctors to quickly gain insight into a person’s immune system, and spot early signs of inflammation and infection that could signal the need for further in-depth tests.

HOW IT WORKS

Using a combination of microfluidics – tiny microscopic channels that can isolate white blood cells from blood – and electrical sensors, the new chip was able to detect differences in the electrical properties of white blood cells taken from healthy and diabetic patients.

The chip first physically separates the various blood cells by size into the different outlets through very tiny channels, much like how a coin-sorting machine works. The isolated white blood cells are then run through a special channel where electrical impedance is measured for each cell at a very high speed (hundreds of cells per second). The electrical impedance of an abnormal cell is usually higher than the impedance of a healthy cell, given as abnormal cell is larger in size and has different membrane properties.

“Our chips can isolate thousands of white blood cells from a single drop of blood and, within minutes, tell if these cells are electrically different from normal, which would be an indicator of whether there is a health issue to be further investigated,” said Asst Prof Hou, who is also a faculty member at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at NTU.

Last month, MobiHealth News reported on a Japanese researcher’s invention of a portable, low-cost, battery-powered device that pairs with a smartphone which can scan biological samples for real viruses.

ON THE RECORD

“Our chip was designed for easy scale-up by companies, with an integrated system built from electronic components available on the market. Moving forward, we are looking to commercialise the technology with an industry partner, as we see that there are market demands –for a point-of-care device for doctors and as laboratory equipment for the study of neutrophils and drug screening,” Prof Li said in a statement.