HEALTH

This wristband can measure cells. How can it help you?

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Electrical Engineering Professor Mehdi Javanmard chuckles at the technical name. But this cytometer, a device that measures cell properties, might have some serious implications and applications — from routine screenings and blood drawing to emergency medicine.

“So imagine someone is in a car accident. They get rushed to the emergency room and the medical professionals want to know if this person is undergoing internal bleeding or not. They can do a quick pin prick of their finger and they can do a complete blood cell count with this type of device and make a quick assessment as to what the next step would be,” Javanmard said.

Javanmard says that process typically takes an hour or two for results. In cases of chronic diseases, a day or two.

He says the cytometer has applications beyond medical; consider the environmental ones as well.

“You open up a door and you want to test the doorknob first to see how clean it is — whether there’s E. coli bacteria or not. You go to a restaurant, you want to eat a salad. You want to know whether the lettuce has salmonella or E. coli on it. You take a quick swab of your lettuce, you test it on your wristband and you can say, ‘Yes, this is safe to eat,'” he said.

Javanmard says for more than a decade his lab has been working on building miniature devices to monitor what we have in our blood, saliva and other bodily fluids. He says this small device can do what big, bulky machines do.

“A microfluidic channel inside of it. Essentially what that is, is like a really small pipe that’s thinner than the diameter of a human hair,” Javanmard explained.

With the advent of Fitbit and smartwatches, he says the lab saw an opportunity to create this cytometer on a circuit board with batteries, Bluetooth and other technology.

“What it does is it take these really small signals of the cells passing by one by one. It process that data. It converts it to digital data and then it wirelessly transmits that to a smartphone. And then the smartphone process the data and it essentially displays it for the user to know what their cell count is,” he said.

The professor says the university is working on a patent, while feedback has been encouraging from biotech colleagues after a study about the device was published in the scientific journal, Nature. About how this resembles popular smart devices but with huge applications for telemedicine?

“We are also trying to piggyback on that computing power to essentially bypass the need for these large servers and computers,” Javanmard said.

The professor says the invention is a quite a ways from being available on the market. From now to then, it will need clinical trials, FDA approval and development so it looks less Space Age.