October 28, 2015

UConn biomedical engineers collaborate on sickle cell disease test

SUBMITTED | Peter Morenus/UConn
SUBMITTED | Peter Morenus/UConn
Savas Tasoglu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, left, and Stephanie Knowlton, a graduate student, with the device they developed to analyze blood for sickle cell disease.

UConn biomedical engineers and colleagues from Yale, MIT, and Harvard have developed a simple, inexpensive and quick technique for diagnosing and monitoring sickle cell disease that can be used in regions where advanced medical technology and training are scarce.

Using a 3D-printed device, the team – led by UConn assistant professor of mechanical engineering Savas Tasoglu – has created a testing platform that can accurately diagnose and monitor sickle cell disease in the field or at a remote clinic, using just a few drops of blood, according to a UConn report on the test. The platform is contained in a lightweight, compact box that can be attached to a common Android smartphone.

Sickle cell is a hereditary disease that affects an estimated 90,000 Americans, as well as people in all countries of Africa. It is a serious public health issue that, if left undiagnosed, can cause life threatening "silent" strokes and lifelong damage.

Current screening and monitoring programs for newborns can be cumbersome, involving expensive centrifuge equipment, microscopy, and specialized training.

The key to the new device is magnetic levitation. Sickle cells, because of their unique crescent moon or sickle-like shape, tend to be denser than healthy red blood cells and therefore levitate or float at a lower height when the cells are placed in a paramagnetic solution and subjected to a magnetic field, UConn graduate student Stephanie Knowlton said in the report.

"This approach enables a binary (yes/no) decision for identification of sickle cell disease, even by the naked eye," Tasoglu said.

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