Monitor detects dangerously low white blood cell levels
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IMAGE: MIT researchers have developed a way to measure white blood cell levels by imaging the cells as they flow through capillaries at the base of the fingernail. In these images,… view more 

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Credit: MIT/The Leuko Project

CAMBRIDGE, MA — One of the major side effects of chemotherapy is a sharp drop in white blood cells, which leaves patients vulnerable to dangerous infections. MIT researchers have now developed a portable device that could be used to monitor patients’ white blood cell levels at home, without taking blood samples.

Such a device could prevent thousands of infections every year among chemotherapy patients, the researchers say. Their tabletop prototype records video of blood cells flowing through capillaries just below the surface of the skin at the base of the fingernail. A computer algorithm can analyze the images to determine if white blood cell levels are below the threshold that doctors consider dangerous.

“Our vision is that patients will have this portable device that they can take home, and they can monitor daily how they are reacting to the treatment. If they go below the threshold, then preventive treatment can be deployed,” says Carlos Castro-Gonzalez, a postdoc in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) and the leader

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