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3D illustration of blood components (RBCs and WBCs) flowing through a blood vessel.
The CytoTracker device is designed to quickly aid the detection of elevated or reduced WBC counts in a patient or a blood sample.
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Researchers Design, Validate a Handheld WBC Counter

The leukometer could enable rapid testing and triaging for infections and aid in cancer treatment

Rutgers University
Published:Jan 19, 2024
|3 min read
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A Rutgers researcher has led a team to design and test a device that quickly counts a person’s white blood cells (WBCs) with a single drop of blood, similar to the way glucometers rapidly scan for blood sugar levels. Details of the device development and clinical validation are described in PLOS One

Mehdi Javanmard, PhD, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Rutgers School of Engineering, said, “Normally, doing a blood count requires a phlebotomist taking a needle stick and collecting significant amounts of venous blood and sending the samples off to labs where they are tested, sometimes taking hours or even days,” Javanmard said. “Our handheld device enables near-patient testing, while only requiring a tiny amount of blood and returning results within minutes, allowing clinicians to make decisions almost immediately.” 

Point-of-care detection and testing device

Called CytoTracker, the device is designed to quickly aid the detection of elevated or reduced WBC counts, a critical signal of a patient’s immune system status. A high or low WBC count may indicate the intensity of an infection, the presence of life-threatening conditions such as sepsis or determine how patients are responding to chemotherapy and psychotropic drugs. 

In collaboration with a clinical team at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Clinical Research Center led by Tanaya Bhowmick, MD, and the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine, the device was successfully tested in trials by pitting the device in a head-to-head comparison with a lab benchtop hematology analyzer, a conventional blood testing technique. “Rapid test results have revolutionized the field of medicine,” said Bhowmick, an infectious disease physician and co-author of the paper. “The white blood count is a parameter that physicians routinely order to evaluate a patient for possible infection.  Having this information rapidly can help triage patients in the outpatient setting.”

The results showed the CytoTracker Leukometer to be at least 97 percent accurate and meet clinical standards. 

Multipurpose miniaturized testing device

Javanmard said he envisions multiple uses for the device. Sepsis in a patient entering an emergency room could more quickly be detected on the device than through present methods requiring a blood draw and a lab test, he said. Oncologists could rapidly determine whether patients undergoing chemotherapy need a WBC stimulant. The device also may make it easier for psychiatry patients to stay on their medications. 

Patients taking clozapine, a common treatment for disorders such as schizophrenia, often experience neutropenia. These patients are required to undergo regular testing for neutrophil levels before they can obtain a prescription. Javanmard said this often prevents patients from procuring much-needed treatment. 

In his Rutgers lab, Javanmard and his students have sought to perfect the capabilities of a miniaturized electronic cytometric technique that detects microscopic particles by directing them through minute channels containing electrodes. The process is akin to scanning people as they move individually through an airport security gate, however using electrical signals instead of videography. 

In one recent advance, Javanmard said he and lab members used the cell-flow technique to develop a test so sensitive it could someday elevate medical approaches to epidemics. “We set out to solve one of the holy grails of medicine, which is to analyze a tiny amount of a patient's blood in a way to give guidance to clinicians and improve clinical outcomes,” Javanmard said. “We believe this will have a huge impact on infectious disease, oncology, and psychiatry.” 

The device must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before it can be commercialized and used for clinical applications, Javanmard said. It is presently for research use only.

- This press release was originally published on the Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey website