Absorption Flow-Cytometry for Point-of-Care Diagnostics
Medical devices are used widely at every stage of disease diagnosis and treatment. To eradicate certain infectious diseases, the development of highly sensitive diagnostic tools and techniques is essential. The work reported in this thesis presents a novel approach, which can be used for the diagnosis of various diseases in the field of clinical cytology. The central theme of this approach was to develop a simple, holistic and completely automated system for point-of-care (POC) diagnostics. This is realized through the Development of an Absorption Flow-Cytometer with Synergistic Integration of Microfluidic, Optics and simple Electronics. Quantitative diagnosis of malaria has been taken as test case for the characterization and validation of the developed technology. Malaria is a life-threatening disease widely prevalent in developing countries. Approximately half the world population undergoes a test of malaria and it kills close to half a million people every year. Early detection and treatment will reduce the number of fatalities and also decrease its transmission rate. In the recent past, several diagnostic tools have been developed to detect malaria but there are varied demands on diagnostic instruments in healthcare settings and endemic contexts. The objective of this thesis is to develop an instrument capable of identifying malaria-infected red blood cells (i-RBCs) from a given few micro-liters of whole blood. The optical absorption properties of blood cells were measured at a single-cell level to diagnose malaria. The proof-of-concept for the instrument was established in four stages, after which a prototype was also developed and validated. In the first stage, a system capable of simultaneously imaging cells and also measuring their optical absorbance properties was developed. The developed system was employed to characterize absorption properties of red blood cells (malaria-infected and healthy ones) on blood-smear. A custom-made bright-field transmission microscope in combination with a pair of laser diode and photo-detector was used to simultaneously image and measure transmittance of infected and uninfected RBCs. In the second stage, the technique was extended to enable high-throughput measurements with the use of microfluidic sample handling and synchronous data acquisition. Using this technique, the optical absorbance and morphology of infected and healthy RBCs have been characterized in statistically significant numbers. The correlation between cell morphology (from images) and single-cell optical absorbance level helped to establish the thresholds for differentiating healthy and infected cells. In the third stage, a portable prototype capable of assessing optical absorbance levels of single cells was fabricated. The developed prototype is capable of assessing cells at throughputs of about 1800 cells/ second. It was initially validated with sample suspensions containing infected and healthy RBCs obtained from malaria cultures. For the device to be usable at the field-level, it has to function in the presence of all other cellular components of whole blood. The optical absorbance of other cellular components of blood like white blood cells and platelets, were characterized. The device was finally tested with blood samples spiked with malaria-infected RBCs validating the overall proof-of-concept and the developed prototype. The deployment of such cost-effective, automated POC system would enable malaria diagnosis at remote locations and play a crucial role in the ongoing efforts to eradicate malaria. In future, the presented technology can be extended to develop POC diagnostic tool for other diseases as well. As it enables quantitative estimation of malaria, the present optical absorption flow analyzer would also find application in disease prognosis monitoring, anti-malarial drug development and other studies requiring measurements on a single-cell basis. The hyper-imaging system can be used to characterize and validate the threshold information, and can be incorporated in the prototype. Thus, it is a continuous process to characterization and implementation in the prototype. The optofluidic absorption flow analyzer will help enable affordable clinical diagnostic testing in resource limited settings. This approach will be extended to diagnose other diseases, using differences in optical absorption as criteria for differentiating healthy and infected cells.
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