Researchers at MIT have developed a new type of sensor that makes diagnosing sepsis faster, easier, and more affordable than ever before. This could have a huge impact, as sepsis is one of the leading causes of death in hospitals, accounting for almost 250,000 patient deaths per year in the US alone.
The method developed by MIT uses microfluidics to detect the presence of key proteins in the blood that serve as early warning signs for the onset of sepsis. In particular, one called "interleukin-6" or "IL-6" occurs hours before the onset of another symptom in a patient. However, normal "assay" or blood test equipment is unable to detect this as quickly as these peaks, despite the fact that they can rise early, do not accumulate very high levels as compared to conventional methods.
The MIT system can detect these higher levels automatically at a very early stage, using less blood than you would with a single finger stroke. The results are only 25 minutes more expensive than traditional hours or half an hour for more recent point-of-care systems that have recently been launched but still consume a lot of blood ,
MIT avoided these limitations by using a test methodology that reflected a laboratory-based detection method for IL-6 that used tiny magnetic beads to indicate the presence of the protein, reducing size so that they were actually deployed on-site can. Existing field methods use high-quality optics that are expensive and do not allow much cost-effective innovation. The price of these tests and the hardware required for them are prohibitive for a broad application.
Researchers plan to continue their work by developing a complete panel of proteins that serve as early markers for sepsis detection to improve the accuracy of their diagnosis. However, the system could be tuned to recognize a number of different biomarkers, so its potential applications could extend to other diagnostics.