Oct 31, 2015 | By Alec

Few 3D printing innovations are more impressive than medical applications, but even by that standard a recent tool by a team of researchers from the University of Connecticut, Yale, MIT and Harvard is very remarkable. The team, led by UConn assistant professor of mechanical engineering Savas Tasoglu has created a 3D printed testing platform for diagnosing and monitoring sickle cell disease from just a few drops of blood. Being low-cost and easy to use, it can even be used areas where little medical technology or knowledge is present.

That’s very good news, because Sickle Cell Disease is a hereditary illness that can kill. Affecting about 90,000 people in the US alone, it is also common throughout the third world – approximately 3% of African children are born with the condition. If left untreated, it can cause strokes and even death. The problem is that it is relatively difficult to diagnose and requires expensive equipment and specialized training.

Fortunately, this 3D printed device by Tasoglu and team will change all of that. It is lightweight, compact, and only requires an Android smartphone. ‘Our technique shows great promise as a broadly applicable tool for both basic and applied research, as well as a screening and diagnosis instrument for point-of-care settings,’ Tasoglu explains. To recognize the sickle cells in the bloodstream, this device relies on magnetic levitation. These diseased cells are denser than healthy cells, and will therefore float at a lower height when placed in a paramagnetic solution and exposed to a magnetic field. ‘This approach enables a binary (yes/no) decision for identification of sickle cell disease, even by the naked eye,’ says Tasoglu.

So how is it used? Well, a blood sample is mixed with a salt-based solution that draws oxygen out of the cells, making them easier to detect. Inserted into the smartphone attachment easily, it is tested by passing between two magnets (positioned to create a magnetic field). Illuminated with LED lighting, the smartphone’s camera captures the image and clearly shows where the blood cells are floating. Within just 15 minutes doctors can make a diagnosis. ‘With this device, you’re getting much more specific information about your cells than some other tests,’ says PhD student Stephanie Knowlton, who worked on the device with Tasoglu. ‘Rather than sending a sample to a lab and waiting three days to find out if you have this disease, with this device you get on-site and portable results right away. We believe a device like this could be very helpful in third world countries where laboratory resources may be limited.’

While this isn’t the first 3D printed smartphone attachment developed as a doctor’s tool in the developing world, it is to our knowledge the first to use magnets – opening up a whole new range of applications. ‘Some people have been using smartphones to look at tissue slides or blood smears. We’re looking at the actual real time activity of these cells and what they are doing in response to a magnetic field,’ says Knowlton.

What’s more, the tests were great so far, and Tasoglu has already filed a patent for the device while working on similar applications of the concept. ‘The device basically separates micro particles based on their densities and magnetic signature,’ Tasoglu said. ‘If you’re able to separate them based on their densities then this can be a useful tool for diagnostic applications. For instance in Africa, in resource limited settings, they don’t have these microscopes or expensive equipment, or in some cases trained personnel. So the setup should be simple to use and should be low cost so that in these kinds of resource limited settings they could be used. ‘

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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