Bioengineers, Doctors Unveil Sepsis Test Requiring One Drop of Blood

A new portable device is now able to identify deadly sepsis infections from a single drop of blood, thanks to the work of researchers from the University of Illinois and Carle Foundation Hospital. 

Sepsis is triggered by infections in the body, which cause the immune system to release infecting-fighting chemicals. The chemicals promote widespread inflammation to fight infections but that can also quickly lead to organ failure and death.

Sepsis is among the most serious threats in intensive care units and affects about 20 percent of patients admitted. It is rapid moving and difficult to predict fast enough to prevent organ failure.

Device looks at immune response

Doctors typically monitor vital signs to detect sepsis. Once signs are evident, the search is on for the source of infection, but doing so through blood cultures and other tests is a race against the clock that doctors may lose.

The new device looks at immune response, since the immune response often precedes detectable infections. Using lab-on-a-chip technology, the device counts total white blood cells and, specifically, the white blood cells called neutrophils, while also measuring the protein marker CD64 on the surface of neutrophils, which rises with increased immune response.

Beyond its use as an early detector of sepsis, the device allows doctors to monitoring CD64 and white cell counts over time to gauge effectiveness of treatment and track patient improvement.

You can see the researchers’ news release as well as their published findings in Nature Communications.

Image: Janet Sinn-Hanlon