Anemia is an underrated condition that can lead to developmental disorders in children and organ damage in adults.
With two billion people worldwide affected by anemia, and a full third of us at risk, one would think that there are already simple diagnostic kits off pharmacy shelves that can help us detect the condition.
However, current testing for anemia is still done by hospitals and commercial labs which can be costly and time-consuming.
Now, health innovators at Georgia Tech and Emory University in Atlanta have developed a prototype device which offers point-of-care testing that is simpler, cheaper, faster, and yet accurate—something that could change how anemia is diagnosed.
The transparent plastic device is a two-piece apparatus:
- A small cap that takes a droplet of blood sample from a fingerstick
- The body of the kit to which the cap is attached after drawing the sample.
The device is then shaken to allow the blood sample and the chemical reagent contained within to mix. A reaction takes place, and in as fast as 45 seconds, a color indicator shows results ranging from green-blue to red.
A label on the device matches the hemoglobin test results to the corresponding degree of anemia.
Alternatively, the results can be photographed with a smartphone camera, and the accompanying mhealth app can interpret the results.
To verify the accuracy of the results, the researchers tested blood samples from 238 patients at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and at Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute.
After four rounds of tests, the researchers concluded that the device yielded results that have “comparable sensitivity and specificity for detecting any anemia” to conventional lab instruments such as hematology analyzers.
The researchers recommend their point-of-care (POC), color-based diagnostic test for self-screening and self-monitoring of anemia, as described in more detail in The Journal of Clinical Investigation:
“Our goal is to get this device into patients' hands so they can diagnose and monitor anemia themselves,” Dr. Wilbur Lam, senior author of the study, and 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, said in a press release. “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.”
Lam and Erika Tyburski—who led the undergraduate research team that initially developed the device—are now working with Emory's Office of Technology Transfer to launch their own startup, Sanguina. It will be formed to commercialize the device—known as AnemoCheck.
The team also plans to test their device to detect more specific types of conditions—such as sickle-cell anemia, a hereditary blood disorder that is common in Georgia where the team is based.
According to The Lancet, sickle cell anemia and other blood disorders are also disproportionately prevalent in the Middle East and Africa, due partly to the practice of consanguineous marriages that pass the sickle cell trait through generations.
A point-of-care device such as AnemoCheck could one day provide at-risk populations with an instant and affordable self-testing method.
POC Testing Grows
Rapid point-of-care lab testing is one of the main areas of interest for many researchers today. Already there are tests and mHealth devices to instantly diagnose diabetes, hepatitis, and asthma—just to name a few.
These tests have great potential to raise the standard of healthcare in many resource-poor settings since they have the potential to empower patients and prevent complications from anemia and other conditions that may be underestimated.