Scientists have created a device that is able to detect a person’s risk of infection from a drop of blood within minutes, as opposed to current methods, which can take up to 2 hours. This is according to a study published in the journal Technology.

One common laboratory test to determine an individual’s risk of infection is the counting of neutrophils in the blood, known as absolute neutrophil count.

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell found in human blood. According to researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital who conducted the study, neutrophils are the “body’s first line of defense” against inflammation and infection.

They explain that within minutes of detecting infection, the neutrophils flee from the blood toward tissue, where they settle at the sites of infection.

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Scientists have created a new silicone-based device that can measure migration patterns of neutrophils in the blood, therefore determining a person’s risk of infection.

However, Dr. Daniel Irmia, assistant professor at the BioMEMS Resource Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that in many cases, it may not be enough to just count the neutrophils.

“If neutrophils do not migrate well and cannot reach inside the tissues, this situation could have the same consequences as a low neutrophil count,” he adds.

With this in mind, the investigators created a “miniaturized silicone-based device” that they say is able to measure migration patterns of neutrophils from a finger prick of blood, and this can be carried out within a matter of minutes.

The researchers say that methods currently used to measure the functions of neutrophils involve separating them from the blood.

This process can take 2 hours, and the investigators say that the procedure needs to be conducted by skilled laboratory personnel.

They say this poses a problem within clinical conditions, such as treating cases of patients with burn injuries, as the process is time-consuming and medical professionals’ priorities change throughout the day.

Explaining the validation of their device, the researchers say:

To address the need for rapid and robust assays, we designed a microfluidic device that measures neutrophil chemotaxis directly from a single droplet of blood.

We validated the assay by comparing neutrophil chemotaxis from finger prick, venous blood and purified neutrophil samples. We found consistent average velocity of (19 ± 6 μm/min) and directionality (91.1%) between the three sources.”

They conclude that being able to measure patients’ risk of infections in a matter of minutes from only a droplet of blood is a “significant improvement and one that will improve current treatment.”

New blood tests are also being developed to detect onset and progression of other health conditions. Medical News Today recently reported on a study detailing a blood test that could reveal the spread of melanoma.