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The microfluidic device can save life by speeding up the diagnosis of sepsis


Researchers from the Michigan Institute of Technology have developed a new sensor that can drastically accelerate the diagnosis of sepsis and save life by identifying the condition before it is too late.

New microfluidic deviceRegards: Felice Franke

The small microfluidic sensor can detect a biomarker for sepsis called interleukin-6 (IL-6) in small amounts of blood within approximately 25 minutes. The device can provide an inexpensive and more sensitive alternative to current sepsis detection systems, which kills nearly 250,000 patients in the US each year.

Sepsis requires rapid diagnosis for effective management

Sepsis occurs when the immune system triggers a chain of inflammatory reactions in the body in response to an infection. Potential fatal response causes high heart rate, severe fever, shortness of breath, and may cause septic shock where blood pressure drops and organs turn off and fail.

To diagnose sepsis, physicians traditionally rely on vital signs, blood tests and other imaging and laboratory tests, but diagnosing sepsis in time for effective care to be provided remains challenging.

Traditional analyzes for detecting biomarkers for sepsis also often require costly, bulky machines that require milliliters of blood and do not allow detection outside the hospital setting.

In recent years, various point-of-care devices have been developed that can produce microliters of blood for about 30 minutes but are usually expensive because they most often use expensive optical components to detect biomarkers.

They also trap only a small number of proteins, many of which circulate among richer blood proteins.

In addition, any attempt to reduce the cost of these devices, the size of their components, or to increase the range of proteins that can be detected reduces their sensitivity.

Interleukin-6 as a biomarker for sepsis

In recent years, researchers have identified biomarkers of proteins in the blood that serve as initial indicators of sepsis. The blood level of such a biomarker – IL-6 – starts to rise hours before other symptoms of sepsis, making it a promising candidate for early detection. However, even at these elevated levels, the blood IL-6 concentration is too low to be readily detected by conventional analytical devices.

Now, a scientific paper to be presented at the Conference on Engineering in Medicine and Biology in Berlin describes a microfluidics-based system that can detect clinically significant levels of IL-6 in about 25 minutes using less than a finger blood pricking. ,

"For an acute illness, such as sepsis that progresses very quickly and can be life-threatening, it is useful to have a system that quickly measures these volatile biomarkers," says the first author of the study, Dan Wu. – You can also often monitor the disease as it progresses.

Miniaturization of a magnetic bead-based test on a microfluidic device

In an attempt to make a more affordable alternative to the current surveillance systems, MIT researchers are seeking to miniaturize the magnetic bead-based analysis on an automated microfluidic device measuring approximately a few square centimeters.

In one of the microfluidic channels of the device, the antibody-coated microspheres are mixed with blood to capture IL-6 and into another channel, these beads which contain a biomarker are attached to the electrode. When voltage flows through the electrode, it generates an electrical signal for each biomarker granule, and the generated signals are then translated to a biomarker concentration level.

Advantages of the new platform to current systems

Even minimal increases in IL-6 can be detected during the test, and if the samples have to be processed in parallel, more channels can simply be added to the device. Currently, the project has eight microfluidic channels that can measure many different biomarkers or blood samples at the same time.

– This is a very common platform. If you want to increase the physical footprint of the device, you can increase and design more channels to find biomarkers as much as you want, "says Wu.

The compact device is inexpensive compared to existing portable systems that are easy to use and require only 5 microliters of blood to test for IL-6 levels.

"After all, the doctors simply charge a blood sample with a pipette. Then they press a button and after 25 minutes they know the concentration of IL-6 ", adds Wu.

Will we see this technology in the clinic soon?

The technology is not yet ready for clinical use in a hospital setting, but improvement plans are under way. One example includes the ability to detect other biomarkers of the sepsis, of which there are more than 200 examples that are approved by the FDA.

If the device is finalized, clinicians can catch sepsis before it's too late to save lives, even in health care facilities where it would not be practical to use current platforms.


Matheson, R. Microfluidics device helps diagnose sepsis in minutes. MIT News. July 23, 2019

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