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The Color of Anemia

THE COLOR OF ANEMIA

By John Toon
 

A student-developed prototype device is a one-minute, at-home test

A simple anemia testing device could provide rapid diagnosis of the common blood disorder and allow inexpensive home monitoring.

The disposable self-testing device analyzes a single droplet of blood using a chemical reagent that produces visible color changes corresponding to different levels of anemia. The test produces results in about 60 seconds and requires no electrical power. A companion smartphone application can correlate the visual results to specific blood hemoglobin levels.

By allowing rapid diagnosis and more convenient monitoring, the device could help patients receive treatment before the disease becomes severe, potentially heading off hospitalizations. Anemia, which affects 2 billion people worldwide, is now diagnosed and monitored using blood tests done with costly test equipment available in hospitals or commercial laboratories.

“Patients could use this device in a way that’s very similar to how diabetics use glucose-monitoring devices, but this will be even simpler because this is a visual-based test that doesn’t require an additional electrical device to analyze the results,” said Dr. Wilbur Lam, a physician in the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Department of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine.

The device was developed through a collaboration of Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Georgia Tech. It grew out of a 2011 undergraduate senior design project, and in 2013 was among the winners of Georgia Tech’s InVenture Prize, an innovation competition. It also won first place in the Ideas to SERVE Competition in Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business.

To use it, a patient sticks a finger with a lance similar to that used by diabetics to produce a droplet of blood. The device’s cap is then touched to the droplet, drawing in a precise amount of blood using capillary action. The cap containing the blood sample is then placed onto the body of the clear plastic test kit, which contains the chemical reagent. After the cap is closed, the device is briefly shaken to mix the blood and reagent, producing the color.

“When the capillary is filled, we have a very precise volume of blood, about five microliters, which is much less than what is required by other anemia tests,” explained Erika Tyburski, leader of the student team that developed the device.

The prototype device was described in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. Development has been supported by the Atlantic Pediatric Device Consortium, the Georgia Research Alliance, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing, and the Global Center for Medical Innovation.

Erika Tyburski (left), led the student team that developed the idea for a simple, one-minute anemia test. The prototype (below) consists of just two parts in which a reagent is mixed with a small sample of blood. (Photo: Gary Meek)

anemia test

Factoid

Anemia is a condition in which the blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin in blood binds oxygen, allowing it to be circulated throughout the body.

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