What happens when you bring together a pathologist with a group of computer scientists specializing in quantitative light imaging? In the recent case of research colleagues at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), you get a very promising solution to the problem of analyzing large groups of red blood cells for abnormalities that may point to serious diseases such as sickle cell anemia and malaria.
(Red blood cells with their characteristic "dimple," courtesy of the QLI Lab at UIUC)
Until recently, the standard way to determine whether a person's red blood cells were a healthy shape was to look at them under a microscope, which was time and labor intensive for pathologists. Now UIUC scientists have developed a technique to allow doctors to read the shape of red blood cells in just a few seconds, by analyzing the light scattered off hundreds of cells at a time. One of the benefits of this "label-free, high-throughput blood testing" may be its future availability in resource-poor areas of the world where the current technology is simply out of reach (for example, see UCLA Bio-Photonics Researchers Design Lab-on-a-Chip Flow Cytometer.)
The paper describing this new technology breakthrough was published in the October issue of the online journal Biomedical Optics Express (and is available here as a PDF). It represents the work of Dr. Krishnarao Tangella, from Pathology at the UIUC College of Medicine; and Drs. Joonoh Lim, Huafeng Ding, Mustafa Mir, Ruoyu Zhu, and Gabriel Popescu of the UIUC Quantitative Light Imaging Laboratory (QLI). The QLI Lab is described as "performing highly interdisciplinary research at the interface between technology development, basic biological studies and clinical applications" and is hosted by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.
(Beckman building at right courtesy of the Beckman Institute)
Building on previous work, these UIUC scientists found that the scattering pattern changed significantly with the diameter and width of the "dimple" of red blood cells. They then were able to calculate the parameters of a healthy red blood cell and differentiate it from a misshapen or unhealthy one. The accomplishment allows them to analyze large groups of cells at once, rather than singly under a microscope, and with a high degree accuracy.
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